Weak accusations against Justice Sanders
The News Tribune
Olympia, WA - The actions giving rise to ethics charges against Washington
Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders amount to a very small molehill.
Although the state Commission on Judicial Conduct may have had enough
evidence to go after Sanders, the facts supporting the charges are
hardly the stuff of scandal. Sanders' actions simply don't add up
to judicial misconduct worth worrying about.
The charges stem from Sanders' visit to the Special Commitment Center
on McNeil Island last year. He wanted to get a first-hand look at
what goes on at the commitment center, which houses and treats sexual
predators who have finished their prison terms.
Nothing wrong with that. Too often judges have rendered flawed, impractical
decisions because the legal issues arose out of unfamiliar situations.
Sanders' curiosity about the way things really work is a trait other
members of the bench should share.
Where he may have crossed the line was in having conversations with
more than 15 residents, some of whom had cases that could be decided
by Sanders and his Supreme Court colleagues. Sanders spoke with them
on a variety of topics, including their criminal histories and their
thoughts on whether they were able to control their sexually violent
behavior. He also accepted two documents from residents who had cases
According to the commission, Sanders' conduct violated rules requiring
judges to act in a manner that upholds judicial integrity and avoids
the appearance of impropriety. Judges are also barred from engaging
litigants in out-of-court communications on cases they may have to
Any misconduct by Sanders appears to have been inadvertent and not
the product of greed, malice, prejudice or other impermissible motives.
Even if he violated judicial conduct rules, it's hard to see how his
actions weakened the public's faith in the Supreme Court's ability
to fairly decide cases filed by SCC residents.
Recusal is the usual remedy for judicial bias or perception of bias.
Sanders has already recused himself from an appeal filed by six sex
predators housed at the facility.
Sanders is no stranger to controversy. The commission reprimanded
him in 1997 for speaking at an anti-abortion rally. Sanders deserved
that criticism, although he was cleared on appeal a year later.
In this case, Sanders had good intentions but may have inadvertently
made improper contact. He later recused himself. No harm, no foul.