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Interim suspension for ex-judge convicted of fixing tickets

A former Santa Clara County judge who was convicted of fixing traffic tickets and reducing drunk driving sentences for friends and professional athletes was placed on interim suspension Sept. 30, 2004. WILLIAM R. DANSER [#84789], 51, of Saratoga, had resigned from the bench in July after being publicly censured by the Commission on Judicial Performance.

Danser, who was appointed to the bench in 1995, was convicted last May of felony conspiracy to obstruct justice and eight misdemeanor counts, including obstruction by a judicial officer, attempted obstruction and conflict of interest. Although he faced a maximum of three years in state prison, he was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest, 400 hours of community service and was ordered to pay $2,700 in fines and $200 in restitution.

Danser was convicted, along with former Los Gatos police detective Randy Bishop, of fixing traffic tickets for players and officials of the San Jose Sharks hockey and San Jose Earthquakes soccer teams players, as well as their wives and girlfriends. He also dismissed tickets for three men with whom he played in a golf foursome.

Among the beneficiaries of the judge’s largesse were Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov and team president Greg Jamison, as well as a team trainer and an equipment manager. Others were Danser’s personal trainer, a teacher for his children and parents of players in the Los Gatos Little League, which Danser served as president. A bricklayer who said he did not know Danser also had a ticket dismissed after he donated $200 to the Little League team Danser coached.

Prosecutors accused the judge of selecting cases from around the county over a three-year period and dismissing 20 traffic tickets and handing down two light sentences for drunk driving. He even tried to order the dismissal of two parking tickets his teenaged son had received.

During a 13-day trial, prosecutor David Pandori called Danser the “king of Los Gatos,” and said his office had two doors: “One for everybody and another door for the people who know Judge Danser.” Pandori said Danser did not act for reasons of financial gain, but simply wanted to be the “big man” in his community, demonstrating his judicial power and rubbing elbows with professional athletes.

Danser took the stand in his own defense and said he had done nothing wrong, or at least nothing that other judges did not do. He said friends approached him regularly while he was coaching Little League to complain about “bogus” traffic tickets, and he said he saw nothing wrong with reviewing their complaints. He testified that he asked Bishop to check with other police officers to determine whether they objected to tickets being dismissed “in the interest of justice.”

But Pandori presented 90 witnesses, some who said Danser dismissed tickets in his chambers without traffic scofflaws or their lawyers appearing in his court, and without notifying prosecutors or police officers who wrote the tickets. Danser admitted he never obtained a written justification for dismissing a traffic ticket from the police officer who wrote the ticket, as required by state law.

In sentencing Danser, retired Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge William Kelsay said he was mystified by Danser’s actions and surprised at how his behavior seemed to have rubbed off on some of his staff. “It is just corruption and it is corrupting,” Kelsay said.

He called the sentencing decision “the most difficult” he had ever made.

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