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Court paid $120K to settle Lindsay judge’s lawsuit

Court paid $120K to settle Lindsay judge’s lawsuit

California judiciary paid settlement to former court clerk who alleged that Judge Saucedo attempted to pressure her into a romantic relationship

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

LINDSAY – A court clerk who received $26,000 in gifts from a Lindsay judge trying to have a relationship with her also received $120,000 from the state judiciary to settle her case out of court.

The $120,000 was paid to former Tulare County Superior Court Clerk Priscilla Tovar in 2016 after she alleged that Judge Valeriano Saucedo of Lindsay had given her $26,000 in gifts and barraged her with text messages in an attempt to pressure her into a romantic affair, as both are married. The settlement was signed by the Superior Court of California on July 29, 2016. Under the settlement, Tovar was paid $120,000 for damages and claimed emotional distress and agreed to dismiss any current and future civil action against Saucedo and the Judiciary. The settlement also included a confidentiality clause forbidding Tovar, Saucedo or the judiciary from talking about the payment.

The settlement was not made public until June 12 when the court released five-page document in response to a request by the The Recorder, an online legal publication operating under law.com. The Recorder reports that it had requested settlement documents from the court before but were denied based on judiciary open records laws. The laws changed on June 1 when a new rule took effect requiring courts to disclose all financial settlements involving judges accused of misconduct. Tulare County was the first court to provide judicial settlement documents, and the only county to provide un-redacted documents.

The settlement came two months after the California Supreme Court denied Saucedo’s appeal of a Dec. 1, 2015 decision to remove him from bench for willful misconduct. The Commission on Judicial Performance stated that “the deceitful, calculated and unseemly nature of the judge’s misconduct, compounded by his lack of candor in response to the commission’s investigation and untruthful testimony under oath before the masters” compelled his removal from office. The commission found that the judge’s highly improper course of conduct violated numerous canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics and was committed in bad faith.

The commission found that some of the judge’s conduct was undertaken in a judicial capacity and therefore constituted willful misconduct, the most serious constitutional basis for censure or removal of a judge. 

The charge stemmed from a three-month period from mid-September to mid-November 2013 when Tovar claims Saucedo attempted to have an inappropriate relationship with her and harassed her through extensive conversations via text messaging. Saucedo testified he was attempting to mentor Tovar as he had done for many others in the past.

The conduct began when Saucedo claimed an unsigned, sexually explicit letter arrived by mail at his home, accusing his then courtroom clerk (Tovar) of having an affair with a court bailiff. The next day, the judge informed Tovar of the letter and offered a plan to help. During the next two months, Judge Saucedo sent Tovar about 445 text messages, gave her approximately $26,000 in gifts, including a BMW automobile and a Disneyland trip package for her family, and provided legal advice to her son. The conduct ended when Judge Saucedo accused Tovar of extortion after depositing $8,000 into her bank account.

Known locally as Val, Saucedo has long been a pillar in the Lindsay community. He was a four-term mayor in the 1990s and helped lead the City through a devastating decade that included the closure of two major employers, a crippling environmental lawsuit and the economic erosion of downtown. He was named the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year in 1998. Saucedo was Tulare County’s first Hispanic Judge when he was appointed to the bench in 2001. Saucedo was assigned to Department 6 of the Tulare County Superior Court in 2010. 

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