Fresno County Judge Censured for Releasing Acquaintance from Jail

On August 18, California’s Judicial Commission censured Fresno County Superior Court Judge James Petrucelli for releasing from jail an acquaintance “who was facing spousal abuse charges.”

The acquaintance, Jay Ghazal, was released from jail on July 13, 2013, although he faced “several felony domestic violence charges and his wife had an emergency protective order.” Such charges “typically carry $61,000 bail.”

Petrucelli defended his actions by pointing to “four or five judges” whom he claimed had taken similar action at different times in the past.

According to The Fresno Bee, the Judicial Commission said:

Judge Petrucelli has committed serious misconduct, though not of a corrupt nature. Not only did he abuse his authority by taking judicial action in a matter that had not been assigned to him, he did so under circumstances that created the appearance that he was providing special treatment to his friend and acquaintance.

The Judicial Commission made sure to stress that the censure was “one step from removal from the bench.”

In 2007, Petrucelli was “reprimanded” by the Judicial Commission for “a pattern of making comments that are discourteous, sarcastic or demeaning to those appearing before him.” And in 2001 and 2002, he received “two private advisory letters,” which called attention to ways in which he was allegedly “infringing on attorneys’ rights and raising his voice with county employees.”

In issuing the censure on Tuesday, the Judicial Commission described Petrucelli as “dedicated” and “hardworking.”

They added:

Judicial colleagues described his excellent work ethic and willingness to accept all assignments. Attorneys and others who appear or work in the judge’s courtroom praised the judge’s judicial behavior and performance. Members of the community described Judge Petrucelli’s commitment to public service and to charitable causes and programs.

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