january 2018 bar bulletin
OLYMPIA — The Commission on Judicial Conduct has approved a stipulated order of admonishment against Judge Douglass A. North of the King County Superior Court. The stipulation was entered at an open public hearing meeting of the Commission on December 8. By doing so, the Commission concluded its proceedings against Judge North.
On May 25, 2017, the Commission received a complaint concerning Judge North’s comments during an evidentiary hearing in a criminal case. During a murder trial on October 21, 2015, Judge North presided over a hearing (outside the presence of the jury) to determine whether certain text messages would be admitted. The messages’ relevance turned, in part, on whether an individual named “Charisma” was a gang member and likely to carry out a threat posed in text messages. During the hearing, Judge North said, “But we don’t have any information, of course, about Mr. Charisma, so we don’t know whether he’s some white guy like me making a threat or somebody who’s actually, you know, more likely to be a gangster.”
Judge North agreed that his comment violated Canon 1 (Rules 1.1 and 1.2) and Canon 2 (Rule 2.3(B)) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Rules 1.1 and 1.2 require judges to respect and comply with the law and to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. Rule 2.3(B) requires that “A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment, and shall not permit court staff, court officials, or others subject to the judge’s direction and control to do so.”
Judge North immediately admitted the conduct when it was brought to his attention, and acknowledged that his statement violated the Code in that it manifests bias in suggesting a connection between race and the likelihood that someone is a gangster. Judge North understood the basis of the Commission’s inquiry and acknowledged his awareness of implicit bias as an issue that can affect the justice system. Judge North has served in judicial office for 17 years and has an exemplary record for judicial competence, hard work and fairness. There has been no prior discipline against Judge North and he has been cooperative with the Commission proceeding. He immediately volunteered to address his conduct through training and agreed to seek and complete training in implicit or unintended bias within one year of entry of the stipulation.
An “admonishment” is the lowest level of disciplinary action that the Commission can issue and finds that the conduct of the judicial officer violates the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Stipulation, Agreement and Order of Admonishment in this matter is a public document available at the Commission’s website at https://www.cjc.state.wa.us/.