Clallam County District Court judge admonished by state commission

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County District Court Judge Rick L. Porter has received an admonishment from the state Commission on Judicial Conduct in Olympia.

Porter received the admonishment — the lowest level of disciplinary action the commission can impose — for signing bench warrants for cases in which he was disqualified and for failing to inform a defense lawyer of information received regarding a defendant, according to the commission.

“I take full responsibility for everything that occurs in my court,” Porter said Friday, adding that he had taken part in the process to create the admonishment.

According to the commission's report, Porter acknowledged that he inadvertently signed bench warrants in some cases he had been disqualified from handling by “affidavits of prejudice.”

Defendants are allowed to exclude one judge from seeing their case, for any or no reason, known as an affidavit of prejudice, according to state law.

When Porter set up a “pay or appear” program in Clallam County, it did not have safeguards to separate those cases from the judges who are named in the affidavit, according to the report.

“While there is no indication Judge Porter was specifically aware that he signed warrants in cases in which he was disqualified, the warrants were issued through a Pay or Appear program set in place by Judge Porter,” the report said.

“The program was without safeguards to keep the judge from issuing warrants in cases in which he had been disqualified.”

Said J. Reiko Callner, executive director of the commission: “It is an advisory not only to this judge, but to others.”

Porter also “failed to timely disclose this information and apparently relied on it in ruling in the defendant's case,” the commission report stated.

Ex parte

Porter agreed that not disclosing ex parte communications immediately to the defendant or her attorney in the circumstances described violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.

It was an unusual case, Porter said, and the first he had seen of its type, in which the defendant submitted fraudulent community service hours, he said Friday.

The commission found that the warrant violations appear to have resulted from oversight and were unintentional, and it did not find any pattern of not disclosing ex parte communications.

“[Porter] should have disclosed the ex parte communications to the counsel assigned on an unrelated case, prior to sentencing, to avoid any possible perception of partiality,” the report said.

The stipulation, agreement and order of admonishment can be found at www.cjc.state.wa.us.

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct is an independent agency of the judicial branch of government created under the state constitution.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 11. 2013 5:47PM
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