SANTA ANA, Calif.—A Southern California judge accused of killing his wife during an argument while drunk texted his court clerk and bailiff afterward to say he had shot her, prosecutors said Friday as they charged him with murder.
A court filing from prosecutors says Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson texted minutes after last week’s killing: “I just lost it. I just shot my wife. I won’t be in tomorrow. I will be in custody. I’m so sorry.”
Judge Ferguson is free on $1 million bail. But prosecutors said they’re seeking new bail conditions to protect public safety and ensure he doesn’t flee after authorities found 47 weapons, including the pistol used in the shooting, and more than 26,000 rounds of ammunition at his Anaheim home. The weapons are legally owned but a rifle registered in his name is still missing, they said.
The shooting happened after Judge Ferguson and his wife, Sheryl Ferguson, were arguing at a restaurant on Aug. 3, the Orange County district attorney’s office said in the court filing. The argument continued after the couple returned to their home in the upscale neighborhood of Anaheim Hills. The court document says the wife said something to the effect of “why don’t you point a real gun at me?” and he pulled a pistol from his ankle holster and shot her in the chest.
Their adult son called 911 and said his father had been drinking too much and shot his mother, the document says.
Judge Ferguson also called 911 to vaguely report the shooting. When asked if he shot his wife, he said he didn’t want to talk about it at that time and she needed paramedics.
When officers arrived, Ferguson smelled of alcohol and told them, “Oh man I can’t believe I did this,” according to the document.
Judge Ferguson, 72, was arrested at his home. He was released a day later and is set to be arraigned on Sept. 1.
On Friday, prosecutors charged Judge Ferguson with murder with weapons-related enhancements. They want him to surrender his passport, wear an ankle monitor and possess no alcohol or firearms.
Judge Ferguson’s attorneys, Paul Meyer and John Barnett, issued a brief statement and declined to answer questions. “This is a tragedy for the entire Ferguson family. It was an accident and nothing more,” they said.
Judge Ferguson has been a judge since 2015. He handles criminal cases in the Orange County city of Fullerton. He started his legal career in the Orange County district attorney’s office in 1983 and went on to work narcotics cases, for which he won various awards. He served as president of the North Orange County Bar Association from 2012 to 2014.
In 2017, Judge Ferguson was admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance for posting a statement on Facebook about a judicial candidate “with knowing or reckless disregard for the truth of the statement” and for being Facebook friends with attorneys appearing before him in court, according to a copy of the agency’s findings.
Judge Ferguson said on his Facebook page that he grew up in a military family and traveled throughout Asia as a child. He went on to attend college and law school in California. He and his wife were married in 1996.
The arrest shocked the Southern California legal community and officials have been grappling with how the case should be handled. The Orange County district attorney’s office asked state officials to weigh in on whether there was a conflict of interest before filing charges. A judge in neighboring Los Angeles County will hear the case, officials said.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the county jail, said Judge Ferguson was released last week according to the pre-established rules for bail and the law. No additional conditions were sought for his release by Anaheim’s police agency, which arrested him, said Jeff Puckett, Orange County’s assistant sheriff for custody operations.
“We’re simply the people that housed him as part of our county mandate to house arrestees,” he said. “The sheriff’s department cannot impose conditions.”
At the time of Judge Ferguson’s arrest, the facts and circumstances didn’t justify a bail enhancement, said Anaheim police Sgt. Jon McClintock. He said the judge “is afforded the same constitutional right to post bail as anyone else” and declined to comment on the filing by the district attorney’s office.
Orange County is made up of a cluster of cities—the most populous being Anaheim—that are between Los Angeles and San Diego and are collectively home to more than 3 million people.
By Amy Taxin