California judicial watchdog admonishes L.A. judge for biased social media posts

A judicial watchdog group on Tuesday publicly admonished a Los Angeles judge for showing bias in posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael J. O’Gara, a former prosecutor elected to the bench, received the rebuke for joining a Facebook effort to recall Dist. Atty. George Gascón and liking tweets that were critical of Black Lives Matter, a women’s march and immigrants.

“Judge O’Gara’s social media activity gave the appearance of bias,” the state Commission on Judicial Performance said. “He posted undignified, indecorous remarks in response to public figures, and appeared to espouse partisan and controversial viewpoints.”

Of five possible disciplinary actions the commission can take, public admonishment is the third-most severe.

Three days after Gascón’s election, O’Gara joined the recall-Gascón Facebook group and added his family members, the commission said. “Some of the judges are fighting Gascóns [sic] directives and we need them to stay,” he said in one post he later removed. “They are heroes.”

On Twitter, O’Gara replied to a post by UCLA objecting that its stadium had been used as a field jail during Black Lives Matter protests.

“I’m sure your position would change if they had just devastated the student store or the medical center,” O’Gara wrote. “But sure, local business, burn ‘em down.”

Another tweet was critical of gun control, and he liked a tweet that the commission said “suggested bias against people of Chinese descent” and another that indicated support for the death penalty.

O’Gara told the commission that he did not intend his social media posts to be endorsements of any particular viewpoint and had deactivated his Twitter account.

But the commission said judges should not cast doubt on their ability to act impartially or make statements that suggest they are aligned with one side in a controversy.

Disciplinary actions imposed by the commission, from the most lenient to the most punitive, are: a private advisory letter, private admonishment, public admonishment, public censure and removal from office.

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