Judge may lose month's salary for violations
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
A state commission has recommended that an Issaquah judge give up a month's salary as punishment for violating court procedures.
The penalty was recommended Friday against King County District Court Judge Mary Ann Ottinger by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which found a pattern of improper conduct related to informing defendants of their legal rights.
With a district-court judge's annual salary at $122,012, the sanction amounts to $10,168.
The penalty took the form of a recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which would have to formally order that she be suspended for 30 days without pay for the sanction to take place.
Ottinger has 14 days to ask for a reconsideration, but that's unlikely with her attorney saying she's pleased with the recommendation.
The commission concluded there was "clear, cogent and convincing evidence" that Ottinger violated rules of judicial conduct, largely involving improper conduct in handling such matters as informing defendants of their legal rights.
The penalty is the second time Ottinger has been censured by the commission.
The first penalties were imposed June 18, 2004, after an investigation found the judge engaged in "a pattern or practice" of violating the constitutional and due-process rights of defendants in the East Division of King County District Court in Issaquah.
The commission noted that Ottinger has been a judge there for 14 years and for the first 10 years was the only judge in the Issaquah courthouse, "a position unique in King County District Court."
"This was a victory for us," said Ottinger's attorney, David Allen, describing the penalty as "very modest."
"She's a good judge, hardworking," he said. "She's going to comply completely."
Ottinger declined comment on Friday's findings.
Allen also noted that eight other judges made similar errors in 2004 and 2005. No charges have been brought against those judges.
One dissenting opinion did argue Ottinger's penalty was too light.
"I cannot agree ... to the degree of sanction imposed," said Antonio Cube, a King County lawyer and commission member. "Respondent is a repeater of serious ethical violations."
Cube recommended removal from office, but other commissioners did not agree.
The recommendation also includes an order that Ottinger be a presenter in an educational program to other judges detailing proper procedures at arraignments and acceptance of pleas.
The commission findings described a pattern of misconduct by Ottinger that occurred throughout 2004 and into 2005, and which followed the original 2004 sanctions, where Ottinger was found negligent in how she informed defendants of their rights and other legal processes.
The June 2004 penalties included agreements that Ottinger would change her procedures, attend a course at the National Judicial College in Pennsylvania and take other steps to assure that her court was properly conducted.
The commission found, however, that Ottinger kept doing the same things well into 2005.
Ottinger "damaged the integrity of the judiciary by continuing to engage in the conduct which was the subject of the earlier stipulation and censure," the commission found.
The commission said Ottinger routinely told defendants of their right to have an attorney after they'd entered a plea rather than before; often failed to make required findings of probable cause; did not tell defendants about maximum possible penalties; and, in probation-revocation proceedings, didn't tell defendants that they had a right to counsel.
Nine specific cases of misconduct were noted between August and November 2004.
Ottinger "admitted she did not change various practices, as required by the stipulation, until 2005 because she negligently did not realize the need for such changes," the commission found.
Ottinger did do some things right, however, the commission added, leading to the recommendation for the temporary suspension rather than removal from her judgeship.
Among the mitigating circumstances cited are that Ottinger now is following the proper court rules, didn't take the actions for personal gain and that her errors were not unique, since other judges used similar flawed processes.
"Respondent's clear change and positive attitude indicate that there is little chance that this conduct will recur, and the public will be sufficiently protected with this sanction," the commission concluded.
Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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