State suspends local ‘Judge Judy’ for ‘rude’ behavior

August 10, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Judith Eiler

The state Supreme Court has suspended Judge Judith Eiler — the brusque King County District Court judge who has drawn comparisons to TV’s “Judge Judy” — from the bench without pay for rude behavior.

In a decision issued Aug. 5, Supreme Court justices ordered Eiler to be suspended for five days without pay. The judge used to preside at the Issaquah Courthouse, but has since been reassigned to a district courthouse in Seattle. Her caseload consists mostly of traffic infractions and small claims.

“Several litigants — and even some attorneys — reported being ‘embarrassed’ by Judge Eiler’s ‘degrading’ treatment, and feeling ‘mocked,’ ‘attacked’ and ‘uncomfortable’ in her courtroom,” Justice James Johnson wrote in the high court’s majority opinion.

Justices cited “voluminous testimony at trial documenting Judge Eiler’s rude, discourteous, undignified and demeaning treatment of the attorneys and pro se litigants who appeared before her, we find that clear, cogent, and convincing evidence” against her.

Anne Bremner, the high-profile Seattle attorney representing Eiler, could not be reached for comment.

The state Judicial Conduct Commission censured Eiler in April 2009 for interrupting litigants and using “idiot” and other disrespectful language to describe them. Commissioners asked the Supreme Court to suspend her for 90 days without pay. Eiler contested the suggested reprimand.

In the split decision issued last week, the high court reduced the punishment to five days.

“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, demonstrate disrespect for the law or evidence any failure by Judge Eiler to obey it or deny any person legally interested in a proceeding his or her full right to be heard according to law,” Johnson wrote.

In the dissent, Justice Gerry Alexander said Eiler deserved the 90-day suspension, because she had not changed her behavior despite past reprimands.

“This repetitive misconduct calls for a penalty more severe than a reprimand, the penalty meted out in 2005,” he wrote.

The commission cited Eiler for similar behavior in 2005. She completed sensitivity and ethics training as part of the reprimand then. Commissioners noted Eiler’s earlier discipline problems in the opinion issued last April.

Judicial Conduct Commission Executive Director Reiko Callner said a judge should not use his or her power to bully litigants, because people appearing before a judge cannot respond in kind.

“What the code is there to uphold is the independence and integrity of the judiciary,” Callner said.

Lynnwood resident Paul Seiler, a mechanical engineer and former Issaquah resident, appeared before Eiler in summer 2008 after a state trooper caught him speeding on Interstate 90 in Issaquah. Seiler told the judge he had been going with the flow of traffic; he said she responded with a sharp, “You have your own speedometer.”

“Her tone was very condescending,” Seiler said.

Bellevue attorney David Mason recalled appearing before the judge during a civil case at the Issaquah Courthouse. Mason said Eiler made condescending remarks to attorneys during the trial. In the end, she ruled against Mason and his client.

“I will never, ever appear in front of her again after that nightmare,” Mason said.

South King County voters elected Eiler to the bench in 1992 and re-elected her since; she faces the electorate again in November. Des Moines Assistant City Attorney Susan Mahoney is also campaigning for the seat.

In the majority opinion, Johnson said Eiler could face removal if she fails to change her behavior. But the justice also referenced the upcoming election.

“Of course, if King County voters prefer not to wait for further offense, they can achieve the same result at the next election,” he wrote.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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