Allegations of juror misconduct against Fresno judge

FRESNO, Calif.

A woman came forward after the verdict with claims she heard the Honorable Judge James Oppliger make an inappropriate comment on his cell phone. She says since then, she's been intimidated and is living in fear.

Defense attorneys, family members and friends shielded Josephine Canel from Action News cameras. Minutes earlier she told the court she has been threatened and is afraid since she made allegations against juror number 10, Judge James Oppliger.

In the hallway of the sixth floor, Canel claims she overheard Oppliger on his cell phone having a conversation about the defendant in the murder trial about "A Hispanic man ... who is a gangbanger ... with a gun."

She says it angered her so much she told the person she was talking to on her phone quote, "Oh my god. This white guy is over here talking about Ruben."

Referring to the defendant, Ruben Ortiz ... when questioned Canel said she didn't bring the issue to anyone other than friends and family until after the guilty verdict.

Until the case has reached a conclusion Judge Oppliger cannot comment on the case.

Attorney Jeff Hammerschmidt has known Oppliger both professionally and personally for two decades. "When you spend as much time with someone as I did on a daily basis talking with them about work related things about non-work related things, you get to know their vocabulary. And that's just simply not how Jim talks."

Since coming forward with her claims against Oppliger, Canel says she has received a visit from both child protective services and a DA investigator. She feels both were unwarranted.

The claims are the latest since it was revealed after the verdict Oppliger sent emails to other judges during the trial. In one of the emails he talks about the attorneys in the case saying quote: "Here I am living the dream, jury duty with Mugridge and Jenkins."

In April, 19-year-old Ruben Ortiz was found guilty of second degree murder for the death of 15-year-old Chrisna Long. Oppliger is expected to take the stand Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., to rebut the allegations. This is very unusual and court employees say this may be the first in Fresno County legal history.

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