Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Judith L. Meyer damaged her own reputation by using her position and power to help Detective Todd Johnson save face. Why do Johnson’s enablers keep going to bat for him?
On April 5, 2022, the California Commission on Judicial Performance published a seven-page admonishment of Judge Meyer. The document is remarkable because it discloses facts that, otherwise, the public wouldn’t know. It illuminates a series of bizarre interactions yet leaves a crucial question unanswered.
The document explains that Judge Meyer presided over a pretrial hearing on May 15, 2017. It was a murder case. The public defender in the case accused LBPD Detective Todd Johnson and his partner Malcolm Evans of misconduct. The detectives allegedly provided incorrect information about one witness and used “improper tactics” when obtaining an identification from another witness.
Judge Meyer stated on the record that “the behavior of the detectives is appalling and unethical and inappropriate.” She ruled that the prosecution could not call two of their three eyewitnesses and, as a result, the deputy district attorney dismissed the case.
A week later, supervisors from Long Beach police went to Judge Meyer’s chambers. The supervisors told her they were investigating a complaint about Johnson and his partner filed by the deputy district attorney. Judge Meyer authorized the court reporter to provide LBPD with a transcript of the May 15th proceedings.
On April 23, 2018 — almost a year later — Detective Johnson and his partner showed up in Judge Meyer’s chambers wanting to talk about the year-old proceedings.
Immediately following this meeting, Judge Meyer wrote a letter addressed to LBPD Chief Robert Luna. Judge Meyer wrote that she felt “compelled to write…on behalf” of the detectives, whom she had known for more than nine years. She characterized the misconduct allegations against the detectives as “an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
She signed the letter and sent it to Detective Johnson via email, stating, “Please review. If you like it, I’ll send a copy to DA and Chief.”
Detective Johnson forwarded the letter to Chief Luna. The District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office, too, were given copies of the letter.
When Judge Meyer learned that others had the letter, she sent a second letter to Chief Luna on May 31, 2018. In it, she tried to retract statements she’d made in the first letter. Judge Meyer wrote that she did not have a relationship with the detectives and “never intended to give a representation that [she had] an overall feeling about their general character.”
Regardless of her intentions, the commission found that, in sending both letters, “Judge Meyer acted impulsively, without stopping to consider the potential consequences of her actions.”
Why did she feel compelled?
Judge Meyer wrote that she felt compelled — meaning, she felt forced or obliged — to draft the first letter, and to do so in the interest of the detectives rather than, say, in the interest of justice.
Why did she feel obliged to do this favor for the detectives? What pressure or leverage urgently compelled her to write immediately after talking with them? The commission’s decision doesn’t say.
Not coincidentally, on April 23, 2018 — the day that Johnson and his partner confronted Judge Meyer — a substantial article about the botched murder prosecution was published by Long Beach Press-Telegram. The article highlighted the agony of the victim’s grieving family, who were devastated anew by the failures of LBPD and the justice system.
Long Beach Deputy Chief Richard Conant, in an obtuse attempt to minimize the matter and deflect blame, referred to the detectives’ blunders as “a comedy of errors.”
So, within the context of a full-throttle damage-control public-relations effort by LBPD, Judge Meyer suddenly felt compelled.
The detectives unexpectedly confronted the judge in private and urged her to change her mind about remarks she had made many months earlier. Such an encounter can be interpreted as an ambush.
It’s striking, too, that Judge Meyer explicitly sought Todd Johnson’s approval when she sent him the letter for review. She could have sent the draft to one of her peers or superiors. Instead, her priority was to please Johnson. “If you like it, I’ll send a copy to DA and Chief,” she wrote to him.
Why would she care whether Todd Johnson liked the letter? Her outreach to him suggests that she had a compelling, personal interest in making herself agreeable to him. But why?
While Judge Meyer has acknowledged her misconduct and expressed remorse, LBPD has never publicly acknowledged that Johnson engaged in misconduct. Ever. After the murder case fell apart in Judge Meyer’s courtroom, LBPD supervisors publicly denied that misconduct occurred.
While Judge Meyer has been publicly admonished and personally embarrassed, Johnson has gotten away scot-free.
But he’s a good guy
Influential people in Long Beach apparently don’t think twice about going to bat for Johnson, even though the only person who seems to benefit is Johnson.
For example, the police brass who defended Johnson’s dubious conduct and covered up for him during his time on the force — what does Johnson say about them now? The exact words out of his mouth are: “Fuck them. I don’t give a fuck. That’s who I am. I stand by myself.”
Similarly, in a comment posted on this page, the chairperson of the Long Beach Area Republicans defended Johnson as a dedicated family man, despite audio recordings in which we can hear Johnson coerce sexual contact from an intoxicated woman in a hotel room. In another recording, Johnson threatens to go home and assault his own son.
Oh, but Johnson is a good guy, his defenders insist. Johnson, too, says he’s a good guy. He tells the woman in his hotel room what a good guy he is.
“I didn’t think you weren’t a good guy,” she replies using a past tense.
During the same slurred conversation, Johnson says: “I’m the worst person that’s ever walked this earth.” He punches himself in the head twice, each blow landing with a heavy thump, as if he’s trying to beat his contradictory opinions about himself into congruence.
Johnson says, “I’m fuckin’ crazy.” A few seconds later, he sounds skeptical: “Oh, I’m crazy?”
Johnson’s perverse, self-directed violence — such as punching himself in the head — can be seen as a threat of violence directed at everyone within striking distance. It’s a warning. If he would hit himself, what might he do to you?
If he would threaten to beat up his own son, what might he do to your family?
A former colleague described Johnson as a powder keg who blew up at his police peers and superiors but never got in trouble for it. If he can do this to the police, what might he do to any other public official?
Somehow, Johnson persuaded a judge to recklessly put her reputation — and the court’s reputation — on the line to serve his interests.
It’s as if by defending and pleasing Johnson, his enablers hope to placate him and insulate themselves from potential harm. The case of Judge Meyer demonstrates, however, that one does favors for Todd Johnson at one’s peril.
Who’s to stop an unstable 800-pound gorilla? He seems really nice much of the time, but he does what he does.