No Meaningful Oversight on Washington State Judges
Our judicial system is in a state of crisis, and that is not hyperbole.
This is not a Republican issue. It is not a Democratic issue. It’s an issue of freedom and accountability. It’s an issue, first and foremost, for our children.
The problem? Our judges have more power than the POTUS and far more immunity. They operate under a cloak of secrecy with little to no transparency, protected by the very organization tasked to investigate their wrong-doing. They can never be sued. This has to stop.
The committee charged with investigating and fielding complaints against our judiciary, the Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC), investigates less than 2 percent of the complaints it receives against judges in this State. Understand this: 98 percent of the complaints go uninvestigated. Voters must vote these judges onto the bench when we know little to nothing about them.
The CJC releases no information on the nature of ignored complaints, who those complaints were against, any trends of continuing complaints against specific judges. They only release the complaints that were acted upon, and those read like a litany of childish or personal infractions that do not address the allegations suggesting serious corruption and/or incompetence.
For example, the CJC recently disciplined a judge for parking in a car pool parking lot when the judge was not a member of the car pool. Most discipline involves behavior not related to the bench, such as DUI or family disputes /domestic violence claims. But acts of extreme bias or abuse of discretion while sitting on the bench go relatively uninvestigated.
For example, a case pending in Spokane involves a 13-year-old boy whose babysitters went behind the backs of the parents and appeared before a judge to file a third party defacto custody request. A guardian was appointed without the biological parents’ knowledge and the babysitters were given custody of the boy, without a hearing, without a finding of abuse by the parents, without a finding or an allegation of wrong-doing against the parents. The parents showed up to pick their child up from school and were handed a restraining order. CPS stated the child was being “groomed” by the male babysitter and was taken on an expensive cruise just after the awarding of custody. The same judge who agreed there was no finding of inadequate parenting by the parents — indeed, no allegations of parental wrong-doing — also agreed that the babysitters lied extensively about the situation. The Washington State Bar Association ruled that there was collusion, ex parte communications, and falsification of records, but still, the judge has done nothing to rectify the corruption. Five years later, despite enormous financial and emotional cost by the parents, their son is still with the babysitters and has gone from a near perfect 3.75 GPA to a .6 A complaint filed with the CJC almost 18 months ago has not even received the courtesy of an answer. Who is protecting whom?
In Kitsap County, a judge recently awarded 80 percent of a marital estate to a very wealthy husband whose wife relinquished her career and moved 6 times in 18 years supporting his military and private practice career, saddled the wife with the debt of two cars purchased by the wealthy husband after separation, saddled the wife with more than $100K in capital gains taxes from the forced sale of marital property, forced the liquidation of a $175K ROTH IRA belonging to the wife and gave half to the husband with the promise it would be handled at trial but was not, ordered an appraisal of marital property in the house (more than $100K) and gave all of it to the husband, dismissed a forensic accounting of marital assets that the judge ordered at a cost of $40K with no explanation other than “it wasn’t helpful,” and then proceeded to adopt the entire financial statement of the wealthy husband without change. A motion for reconsideration was denied without hearing. A motion for clarification was denied without hearing. A cursory complaint was made to the CJC involving this judge’s fabrication of evidence. Fourteen pages. A response was received in the form of a form letter: Denied; the judge’s conduct was “within her judicial discretion.”
Who knew judges have the discretion to fabricate evidence? Not to mention the litany of financial decisions that the judge made in violation of Washington State law mandating 50/50 division of marital property.
In Mason County, a pancreatic cancer patient, former Marine, and Washington State Correction Officer for 18 years, has been continuously attacked with false allegations — around 20 different accusations of abuse, all investigated by CPS and all dismissed. When one round of accusations is dismissed, another attack is made. This has gone on for five years. Last year, the mother violated the parenting plan and took the three children in the dead of the night to the East Coast, where she remained with a husband who is a convicted drug offender, and the mother has drug abuse issues, as well. Nine months later a warrant was issued for her arrest, the father fighting cancer flies to pick up his children and upon return is told by the guardian that the father traumatized the children by returning them to their home and promptly returned the children to the mother, who is awaiting trial on felony charges. The judge agreed.
The cases are heart-breaking. They are earth-shattering. They read like a horror novel. They are decisions handed down by judges that are egregious and nefarious and corrupt. And they affect the lives of children and adults alike — families destroyed and financial ruin is most assuredly the result. The system that touts “best interest of the child” is only as good as the integrity of the judges and system they operate within.
These are only three cases. There are thousands more.
Our system fails repeatedly, behind a curtain of secrecy that voters aren’t allowed to see. What they do is illegal, but because they wear black robes, we must “all rise.”
Something is going on behind the scenes of these cases, and voters have a right to know the complaints against these judges. And since a majority of the complaints originate in Family Court, this is a family issue and an issue dealing with the welfare of our children.
What is the solution? In 2016 California passed a bill mandating an audit of their CJC-equivalent. The first audit in the nation of a judicial review committee. The results, recently published, were startling. Exactly what we expected: more than one-third of serious complaints by the judicial review committee were not even investigated. The audit commission concluded that this malfeasance only emboldens judges for further misconduct.
It’s time for an audit of the Washington State CJC. Call your representatives today and tell them you demand an audit of the CJC. That you demand transparency and accountability. Our organization is working with several legislators to achieve just that. We need your support. Every call matters.
Roberta Tester, B.J., J.D.
Director of Legal Affairs
Parentalink and Family Court Reform USA (PFCRU)