The inquest began with Judge Valeriano Saucedo taking the stand in his own defense. Initial questioning centered around his background, and emphasized his many friends, family and colleagues who obviously care for and respect the man. Interwoven with Saucedo’s career is a particular thread of affirmative action against “whites” which predominates much of his path to the bench. As a child of migrant farm laborers, he rose to his current office as a solon of the California judiciary, through a legal career heavily influenced by the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s. His socioeconomic and geopolitical migration from Texas to California, inspires a quote from the late Ceasar Chavez:
“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”
Indeed, as Valeriano himself testified, early in life he began basing his decisions on a racial disparity with Caucasians that deeply influenced his pursuit of judicial power.
“When I was a kid, I decided that because I’m Hispanic, I would never get ahead if I was only as good as the white kids around me.”
This outlook against “whites”, he claims, was the driving force that compeled him to become the mayor of the City of Lindsay in 1990’s, which he describes at that time as being “too white.” In fact, many of those who appeared to testify on his behalf were themselves from his many years with California Rural Legal Assistance, and his focus on assisting farm workers.
The focus of the his current inquest aside, Judge Saucedo has led a remarkable career.
Not surprisingly, the most probative insight into the scandal centered around the testimony of a few of his fellow court officers. Priscillar Tovar, Judge Saucedo’s former court clerk, gave a compelling recount of judicial favors that early on crossed the threshold between simple “mentoring” and gross fraternization. Against the bookend testimonies of the obviously reluctant Kim Werth and that of a frank Theresa Velasquez, the panel and public gained a dimensional view of what took place between Judge Saucedo and Mrs. Tovar. Poignantly, both parties concluded their individual testimonies by admitting remorseful ownership for letting the relationship between them get out of hand.
Toward the end of trial on April 10, Saucedo retook the stand, this time spending more time testifying of his remorse for not “going to HR sooner” and generally failing to keep his control over Tovar’s responsive greed in professional limits. Whether Judge Valeriano Saucedo is indeed remorseful of abusing his office as a California judge – or simply remorseful of getting caught, Examiner Harrigan’s last question to Saucedo on the stand focused on Saucedo’s other vow. “Are you remorseful you spent your wife’s community property on Mrs. Tovar?” The picture that eventually emerged was of a judge at once far too comfortable with abusing his judicial authority, and an all-too-human clerk who let Saucedo’s money and influence lure her closer.
Of particular note was the time frame of Saucedo and Tovar’s inappropriate relationship, from August to December of 2013. The momentum-without-brakes they created finally culminated in Saucedo’s threatened suicide on November 3rd, a scant thirteen days after he issued the allegedly frauded “seizure warrant” in the Bill Fabricius matter earlier reported in the Valley Voice.
Beyond the salacious aspect of their affair, a more troubling concern arising during trial was that Saucedo’s readiness to cover for Mrs. Tovar through falsification of court documents. In light of documents demonstrating he willfully falsified court records (a revelation overlooked by other coverage), the question now is, how many other records of the court were in fact falsified?
Where it was revealed that Judge Saucedo frauded overtime records, instructed others to lie, and was willing to intervene in other court cases on Tovar’s behalf, perhaps Mr. Fabricius’ claims of a falsified “seizure warrant” signed by Judge Saucedo are not so far afield.
While, by the end of trial, Judge Saucedo’s reputation as a caring and hard-working advocate for minorities was undeniable, the prosody of the inquest is best summed up by Tovar’s recount of something Judge Saucedo demonstrably sought to emphasize to her repeatedly. She testified that Judge Saucedo told her, “I am a very powerful man.” A statement homogenous to Saucedo’s own toward explaining why he pursued a career in law. “Lawyers can exercise a great deal of power.”
Under the circumstances, this writer is inclined to remind residents of Tulare County the people themselves are responsible for policing local government. To ignore this responsibility is to increase the likelihood that friends and family will continue to fall prey to “Ferguson-like” government officials whose morality succumbs to the erosive power of judicial office. As Lord Acton has famously said:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”