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BOSTON -- A hearing officer is recommending that Judge Maria I. Lopez be suspended for six months without pay for making false statements during an investigation of her misconduct in the case of a sexual assault defendant she sentenced to probation.
In a 234-page report issued Tuesday, retired Housing Court Judge E. George Daher said Lopez should apologize and admit making misleading statements during the probe into her handling of the case of Charles "Ebony" Horton, a transgendered man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy.
"This act of contrition will do much to enable the system to heal itself and in a sense be a public apology to the 11-year-old victim in the Horton case," Daher wrote.
A lawyer for the Commission on Judicial Conduct had recommended that Lopez be removed from the bench, but Daher said he would not recommend her removal.
"It is clear that in the Horton case, one is not dealing with illegal and corrupt acts on the part of the judge," Daher wrote. "In this case, Judge Lopez allowed pride to control her behavior. In so doing, she forgot her responsibilities to the public and, in particular, an eleven year old boy, the victim."
Lopez sparked a public uproar after she sentenced Horton to probation and house arrest. A videotape of her delivering a loud reprimand to the prosecutor during Horton's sentencing hearing was aired repeatedly on Boston television stations.
Horton admitted he lured the boy into a car and held a screwdriver to his neck when he refused to perform a sex act. Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of eight to 10 years.
Lopez said she disagreed with many of Daher's findings and continued to insist it was her light sentence of Horton, not her conduct, that touched off the criticism of her conduct.
"I stand by that sentence as being legal, fair and just," she said, reading a prepared statement at her lawyer's office Tuesday.
Lopez said she has already apologized for her "unfortunate loss of temper" at Horton's plea hearing.
"However, I never believed that my conduct warranted removal from the bench, and I am gratified that Judge Daher has agreed with this," she said.
Lopez and her lawyer, Richard Egbert, would not answer questions from reporters.
In his report, Daher does not address what will happen if Lopez refuses to apologize and accept responsibility. He said Lopez had repeatedly blamed others for her own bad behavior and portrayed herself as a victim.
"Judge Lopez still fails to recognize the seriousness of her misconduct," he said.
Lopez was accused by the Commission on Judicial Conduct of violating several ethical canons by exhibiting bias, abusing the power of her office, making improper contact with outside parties and making misleading statements after the controversy erupted.
She faced possible sanctions ranging from reprimand to suspension to her removal from the bench.
During a 15-day hearing before the commission, Lopez said she did nothing wrong and said she was the target of a "politically motivated" investigation because of the unpopular sentence she handed down.
Paul Ware, an attorney acting as a prosecutor in the hearing, had recommended that Lopez be removed from the bench. Ware did not return a call seeking comment on Daher's recommendation.
Daher said Lopez had "shown her total disregard for the judiciary, the public interest, and the code of Judicial Conduct by providing false testimony during the Commission's investigation and this hearing."
He found that she had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by showing bias and disdain against prosecutors.
Daher also found Lopez had initiated improper, outside court contacts with Horton's defense attorney, a Boston police detective and a woman who filed a complaint against her in an attempt to promote a public campaign to defend her conduct.
He also found that Lopez made inaccurate statements to the court's public information officer, resulting in the issuance of a false press release. Specifically, Daher found that Lopez knowingly and falsely told the court information officer that Horton did not kidnap the boy, that he did not use a screwdriver as a weapon and that when she characterized Horton's offense as "low level," she was referring to state sentencing guidelines.
Both sides are now entitled to a hearing to respond to Daher's recommendations. The hearing has been tentatively scheduled for June 10.
The commission then has 90 days to file its own recommendations with the state Supreme Judicial Court, which will make a final ruling. (AP)
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