Judge suspended for rudeness – Calls litigants “Stupid” and “Idiots” and whistles at the bench …

 

Supreme Court imposes 5-day suspension; four justices say 90 days is warranted

By LEVI PULKKINEN  SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF

In a mixed decision, the state Supreme Court has penalized a King County District Court judge accused of extreme rudeness in her Burien courtroom.

Writing the lead opinion, Supreme Court Justice James M. Johnson noted District Court Judge Judith Eiler had received numerous complaints about her behavior in recent years. She was sanctioned in April 2009 for similar violations, but, the high court found, continued to behave badly.

Asked by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct to impose a 90-day suspension without pay, four of the court’s nine judges agreed that Eiler had violated the canons of judicial ethics but instead ordered a five-day suspension.

“Judge Eiler’s rude, discourteous, and impatient behavior was certainly unprofessional, but it did not go so far as to undermine the integrity and independence of the judiciary,” Johnson wrote in the lead opinion.

“Judge Eiler did not cut deals with litigants behind closed doors, accept bribes or otherwise demonstrate that her decisions were governed by anything other than the law and the facts of the cases,” the justice continued. “Her misconduct also did not undercut public perceptions of judicial integrity or impartiality.”

Four justices disagreed, finding that Eiler’s behavior did in fact undermine the public’s trust in the judicial system.

Writing for the four justices in dissent, Justice Gerry Alexander argued Eiler deserved the 90-day suspension.

Alexander noted that, as a district court judge, Eiler serves in the “people’s court,” hearing a large number of cases each day and often administering justice for residents with little knowledge of the system.

“While it is certainly understandable that the judges who preside over these courts may often feel stressed … that does not excuse conduct by a judge of the sort described in the lead opinion,” Alexander wrote.

Statements by a judge implying that a litigant is an “idiot” or “stupid” and the rendering of other derisive comments about persons who are before the judge is not conduct that engenders respect for the judiciary or provides confidence in the impartiality of the justice system. By the same token, Judge Eiler’s act of whistling and pounding on the bench in the manner disclosed by the electronic record is unacceptable judicial conduct.”

Casting the deciding vote, Justice Richard Sanders concurred with Johnson but argued that a reprimand would be more appropriate than a suspension. The five-day suspension, he offered, “is too harsh a sanction.”

Justices Charles W. Johnson and Tom Chambers joined in James Johnson’s ruling for the five-day suspension, as did Justice Pro Tem. Christine Quinn-Brintnall. Sanders stood alone in concurrence.

In arguing for a 90-day suspension, Alexander was joined by Justices Mary Fairhurst and Debra Stephens, as well as Chief Justice Barbara Madsen.

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