OAKLAND -- An Alameda County Superior Court judge charged with 32 felony counts for allegedly stealing the life savings of his 93-year-old widowed neighbor resigned Thursday and agreed never to become a judge in the state again.
Judge Paul Seeman, who had continued to receive a paycheck since he was arrested in his chambers at Wiley Manuel courthouse and charged with felonies, decided to resign as part of a deal with a state agency that oversees judges' performance.
The Commission on Judicial Performance has the power to remove judges from office and had taken an unusual step of opening an investigation of Seeman before his criminal case had concluded.
Seeman was notified of that investigation last month and decided to resign in exchange for the commission halting its investigation. Seeman also agreed never to hold a judicial office in the state again regardless of the outcome of his criminal case.
It remains unclear if the commission will resume its investigation after Seeman's criminal case concludes.
"Judge Seeman has had a distinguished career, and he felt that this was an appropriate action to take at this time for the good of the court," Seeman's attorney Kathleen Ewins said in a prepared statement.
Seeman is accused of stealing from his now-deceased Berkeley neighbor Anne Nutting by illegally gaining control of her finances and property after her husband died in 2009. While in control of her finances, Seeman is accused of slowly funneling her life savings and valuable possessions into his control. Nutting died in April 2010.
Investigators have said that Nutting's life savings and valuables were worth at least $3 million, court records state.
Seeman was charged on June 14, 2012 with numerous felony crimes including theft from an elder or dependent adult and numerous felony perjury charges for lying on state financial disclosure reports.
Earlier this month, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office amended its criminal complaint charging Seeman with more than 20 additional crimes. Most of those charges, however, were not based on new evidence but where added as a more specific way to charge the crimes.
Seeman's decision to remain on the Alameda County bench while his criminal case proceeded outraged many in the county's legal community and in the public. While Seeman had to be assigned to a courtroom and continued to receive a paycheck, he had not appeared in court since his arrest.
The court's presiding judge, C. Don Clay, sent Seeman to the county's smallest courthouse in Pleasanton after Seeman's arrest but had no power to force Seeman from the bench.
Clay did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Although Seeman did not appear in court after his arrest, his decision not to resign earlier revealed how difficult it is for an elected or appointed judge to be removed from office before a verdict is reached in a criminal case.
While the Commission on Judicial Performance can automatically remove judges convicted of felonies or certain misdemeanor crimes, it cannot do so for pending cases without an investigation.
And without such an investigation and decision by the state Commission on Judicial Performance, the only other way a judge can be removed from office is through a recall election or an impeachment vote by the state Assembly.
Seeman was appointed to the bench by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.
Historically, the Commission on Judicial Performance waits until a criminal case has concluded before it begins an investigation of a judge. Given that history, and a lack of either a recall petition or a state Assembly impeachment hearing, it appeared Seeman would continue to receive his $165,000 a year salary.
But the commission last year opened an investigation of Seeman on the same day he was arrested and charged with felony crimes.
Victoria Henley, the director and chief counsel for the commission, declined to comment on what her agency's investigation had found but said it had not yet made a decision on Seeman's position.
The criminal case against Seeman is scheduled to continue next month when his case is set for a hearing on scheduling.
Teresa Drenick, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, declined to comment Thursday.