Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Judges Disciplined

Washington's Commission on Judicial Conduct has given admonishments to two Pierce County judges. Judge Beverly Grant (superior court) was sanctioned for leading the courtroom in a cheer for the Seahawks during a sentencing proceeding; Judge David Ladenburg (Tacoma municipal court) for ordering a Muslim woman to leave his courtroom when she would not remove her head covering. Each judge agreed not to repeat the conduct and to study the Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Ladenburg will also complete a course on cultural competence at his own expense. The Seattle Times: Local News: State penalizes judges; 1 ordered courtroom Seahawks cheer.

The Commission's orders are here: In re Beverly G. Grant (Aug. 4, 2006); In re David B. Ladenburg (Aug. 4, 2006). Both incidents had received media attention, and in both cases the judges had apologized for their missteps. In fact, Judge Grant filed the formal complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission herself. The orders are interesting to read for the factual context. For instance, one reason Judge Grant's cheering for the Seahawks was seen as insensitive was that the case before her was a homicide that had taken place on the previous Super Bowl Sunday.

Well now, since the Times article led me to look at the Judicial Conduct Commission's orders, I'll also share a couple of others not mentioned by the paper:

  • Judge Robert D. Austin (Spokane County Superior Court) was admonished (Aug. 4, 2006) for disagreeing with a jury's verdict. After a jury rendered a guilty verdict, the judge met with the jurors in the jury room and told them that he was surprised. He explained that he had earlier denied a motion to dismiss for lack of evidence because he felt confident the jury would not convict, and now he expected further motions as a result of the verdict. He later said that he did not intend for his comments to be interpreted as a criticism of the verdict, but in agreed that his comments could have created the impression among the jurors that they had reached the wrong verdict or disappointed him.
  • A judge who is no longer sitting (because he lost the Nov. 2005 election) was censured. He contested many of the allegations -- from ethnic slurs to failure to maintain courtroom decorum -- but conceded some (e.g., that referring to a victim as a "heifer" was insensitive, even outside the presence of the parties) and agreed that it is likely that the Commission would be able to prove some or all of the facts and misconduct alleged if the matter proceeded to a public hearing. He accepted the censure and promised not to repeat the conduct should he hold judicial office again. In re Jonathan Martin (June 2, 2006)(Yakima Municipal Court).
  • Judge Mary Ann Ottinger (King County District Court) was censured and suspended for thirty days for failing to protect the rights of unrepresented defendants (especially during the entry of guilty pleas). Washington Supreme Court order (July 20, 2006); Commission decision (May 5, 2006). The Commission decision recounted that the judge's violations continued despite an order in 2004, but stopped in 2005. Because of Judge Ottinger's efforts to learn of standard practices, the Presiding District Judge for King County is reforming practices generally. One member of the Commission dissented because he would have imposed a harsher sanction: removal from office.
  • A municipal court judge was admonished for "impatient, undignified and/or discourteous demeanor," including "inappropriate humor." In re Stephen E. Moore, April 7, 2006 (Lynnwood Municipal Court).
  • Remember the two attorneys who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to accepting drug money? They were also censured by the Judicial Conduct Commission: In re James L. White, Oct. 28, 2005 (former Edmonds Municipal Court Judge); In re A. Mark Vanderveen (Dec. 9, 2005)(former Edmonds Municipal Court Judge Pro Tem). White was also disbarred (Feb. 3, 2006). (The WSBA directory shows that Vanderveen's license has been suspended but it does not link to the disciplinary notice.)
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