Ruling: Washington justice not entitled to state's legal help

Chris Rizo May 14, 2009, 1:25pm

Richard Sanders

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline)-The state of Washington does not have to pay for state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sander's defense against an ethics complaint, the high court ruled Thursday.

None of the Supreme Court justices ruled in the case. The decision was reached by a panel of pro tem justices.

In its decision, the court upheld an appeals court ruling that the state has "no duty to defend when a judge knows or should know that the conduct of which he or she is accused is unethical and therefore not an official act."

Sanders faced an ethics complaint after he made a visit in January 2003 to the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, where the state holds people deemed to be violent sexual predators.

A complaint to the state Judicial Conduct Commission criticized Sanders for talking to detainees who had cases before the state's high court.

For his part, Sanders, a former civil rights attorney who was first elected to the Supreme Court by special election in 1995, argued that the state should defend him before the commission. He sued in Superior Court to force the state to help him.

The commission ultimately ruled that Sanders had violated two cannons of judicial ethics, and admonished him. The state Supreme Court upheld the action, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

"Justice Sanders was charged in the complaint before the commission with ethical violations involving acts that are outside the scope of a judge's official duties. His acts involved contact with offenders who had cases pending in his court," Pro Tem Justice Donald Thompson wrote for the 5-4 majority Thursday.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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