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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 26, 2009 at 1:59 PM

Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders

Editorial was off base

As a lawyer who handles both public-records cases and those involving judicial ethics, I thought the recent editorial criticizing [Washington State Supreme Court] Justice Richard Sanders was totally off base because it is premised on an inaccurate understanding of judicial ethical standards, what the opinion written by Justice Sanders does, and it left out a very significant fact [“Justice Sanders, pay your own bills,” Opinion, March 24].

Judicial ethics are codified in the Code of Judicial Conduct (CJC). Under the CJC, a judge has a duty to decide all cases brought to the court unless disqualification is required. A judge must disqualify if the judge has an “economic interest” in the matter. Essentially the CJC defines this as having an ownership interest in a party to the case. Justice Sanders had no such interest in the case before the court.

Because he did have pending a public-records case of his own, it is my understanding he asked the ethics adviser for the courts whether he should disqualify in public-records cases and was advised he did not have to do so. No judge should be criticized for acting unethically when the judge makes inquiry and follows the advice given.

Justice Sanders’ vote was not critical for a majority in Yousoufian v. Sims. The opinion he wrote essentially lists factors a trial court must consider in deciding penalties in a public-records case. After considering the appropriate factors, the trial court will then use its discretion to set a penalty. The opinion does not dictate any particular result in his case, or any other public-records case. It is basically guidance to trial courts about what they should consider.

Editorials are opinion. Now that we are a one-newspaper town, I hope The Times will be careful to consider all the relevant information before editorializing about any judicial decision.

— Thomas M. Fitzpatrick, Seattle

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