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On Monday, firebrand conservative attorney Gary Kreep — prominent birther, perpetual lawsuit machine and longtime scourge of liberal causes — will take office as a San Diego Superior Court judge.
He’s the most controversial local judge to come along in years. Critics have been blasting his positions, particularly his efforts to force the president out of office, ever since voters shocked the legal world by electing him in June in a little-noticed judicial race.
The national media has picked up on the story. (It helped that his last name is Kreep and he ran against a prosecutor named Peed.) Locally, CityBeat dug deeply into his background (including a bitter divorce) and found peculiarities, to say the least. Kreep told the reporter, “you give muckrakers a bad name.”
It turns out that Kreep, who’s bound to be a decidedly colorful judge, has company in the history books when it come to being unique. Among other things, San Diego’s judges have ordered hundreds of castrations, been linked to criminal allegations and gotten censured for saying bizarre things from the bench.
Here’s a look at four judges who made a mark for more than just doing their jobs. Plus: a bonus history flashback about a time when one of the most famous American judges of all time escaped from the not-so-friendly confines of San Diego’s very own hoosegow.
‘Woo-Woo-Woo’ and ‘Hoochie Shoes’: Judge Big Mouth
“I have a big mouth,” former Superior Court Judge DeAnn Salcido told CityBeat last year.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, a panel that censured her, leading to her resignation in 2010, alleged that:
• Salcido “kept up a running commentary from the bench. After finding out that one man with mental health problems was hearing voices, she said, ‘You’re going to tell me if they say ‘hurt the judge, hurt the judge.’”
• “She once encouraged the audience to chant ‘woo-woo-woo’ when she was questioning a defendant and led them in reading aloud a motivational sign posted in her courtroom.”
• “She referred to court staff as ‘cucumbers,’ and belittled [a public defender] as the ‘slowest public defender we have’ and ‘Mr. Federal Case.’”
• “Salcido said of prosecutor Richard Huffman that he looked so favorably on defendants bound for the military that ‘he practically drives you there.’”
• She herself recalled saying things like this to defendants who she was encouraging to get work: “You can’t be wearing hoochie shoes to court and expect me to believe you’re not wearing them to your job interview.”
She could be lewd, too. The L.A. Times reported that “Salcido told a defendant that he would be screwed’ if he violated probation and ‘we don’t offer Vaseline for that.’”
That’s not all. Salcido faced flak for using her courtroom to audition for a TV reality show.
“I don’t know when to be quiet,” she told CityBeat after her resignation. “I’m telling you everything I know. That’s just the way it’s going to be. I don’t know how to change that. It’s a defect in my personality.”
The Judges Who Offered Prison or Castration
Judge John Hewicker and Judge Lawrence Neil Turrentin, who served around the middle of the last century, left a legacy of mutilated defendants who chose castration as a get-out-of-prison-free card.
The two judges were the prime movers behind a local movement supporting castration — the removal of the testicles, not chemical castration — as an ideal treatment for sex offenders. By one estimate, 370 men, almost all child molesters, were castrated locally from the 1930s through the 1960s.
Turrentin, who was the first to offer the prison-or-castration choice in 1938, declared that his approach worked. “Not a single probationer has ‘backfired’ with any criminal case of consequence,” he told the Evening Tribune in 1958. In other words, they didn’t get in trouble again.
One offender put things this way in an affidavit in 1975, when two local child molesters offered to be castrated (their wishes weren’t granted): “the operation cured me completely. It’s five years since I had it, but not once have I felt the least desire to touch a little girl.”
Hewicker followed Turrentin’s lead and offered the castration choice through the 1960s. But by the 1970s, the idea of offering such a choice began to seem inhumane.
What were the judges thinking? “There was no maliciousness in their motivations,” San Diego City College adjunct political science professor Mark Linsky told me in 2010. He’s written about the judges and the castrations.
“They were basing this on what they thought was solid science 75-80 years ago,” Linsky said. “They felt they were giving benefit to these men by keeping them out of prison and restoring them to society.”
The Judge Kicked Out by Voters
It’s relatively rare for voters to recall someone from elected office in San Diego County. It’s even more unusual for voters to kick out an elected judge. But that’s what happened back in 1982, when voters recalled Lewis A. Wenzell by a margin of 83-17 percent. (He’d actually already resigned.)
Wenzell had been convicted, although the conviction was later overturned, of soliciting prostitution. “Before his conviction was reversed, Wenzell faced the prospect of being the first California judge to face removal from the bench on constitutional grounds of moral turpitude,” the L.A. Times reported.
Other local judges have gotten in hot water over legal issues. The U-T has a list of those who have been convicted of crimes or disciplined over the past 30 years. Judges have faced accusations of taking bribes (two served time in federal prison), sexual harassment, drunken driving and domestic abuse.
Then there’s the case of the judge who became mayor then resigned in disgrace. Dick Murphy quit in 2005 as San Diego went through some of its darkest days during a massive financial scandal.
Bonus Tales: Judge Roy Bean and His Brother, the Mayor
Roy Bean hadn’t yet become the West’s most famous judge (“The Law West of the Pecos”) when legend says he became San Diego’s first jailhouse inmate. But his story is pretty neat, so we’re including it as a bonus judge’s tale.
Bean was thrown into jail here in 1851, possibly as a result of wounding someone in a duel or a shooting. History is a bit hazy.
Whatever the case, he apparently escaped. Again, the details are fuzzy. He may have just waltzed away because there were no guards. Another story says he had the help of admiring “señoritas” who gave him tools for escape hidden in bouquets or tamales.
The seemingly porous jail would remain, although a city attorney complained that it the overly friendly sheriff would accompany inmates to a hotel where they would “jointly take their eye-openers, bitters or nightcaps as the case may be.”
Bean had a brother, Joshua, who served as mayor of San Diego in 1850, and it sounds like he could have used a permanent judge on call to keep an eye on him.
Mayor Bean presided over the shoddy construction of a jail and “there has been some suspicion through the years that this was San Diego’s first example of official graft,” wrote historian Richard Pourade.
There’s no word on whether any “señoritas” came to his rescue.
Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.