Summarized by Kent Larsen
U.S. Judge's Offensive Courtroom Notes About Mormons, Others Raise Ethical Concerns
Spokane WA Spokesman-Review 30Jan00 N6
By Karen Dorn Steele: Staff writer
YAKIMA, WASHINGTON -- The notes that U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald
has passed to his courtroom deputy in Yakima during his past 15 years on
the bench are raising ethical concerns because many of the notes make
fun of religious, racial and ethnic minorities. The judge's notes, which
are by law part of the public record, raise questions about whether or
not he was biased in many of the cases he heard.
Copies of several dozen courtroom notes were given to the
Spokesman-Review by Kathryn Blankenship, who was a court reporter for
McDonald for almost 10 years. Blankenship kept the notes, and produced
them recently. She is currently seeking damages because she says she was
fired in 1994 after testifying against McDonald about the notes and
other alleged misconduct in a 1994 closed-door hearing.
Many of the notes seem offensive on their face. While a black man was
testifying, McDonald is said to have written, "Ah is im po tent!" And
while the courtroom was full of Hispanic defendants his court clerk
wrote: "It smells like oil in here -- too many 'Greasers.'"
In another exchange that couldn't be connected to a particular trial,
his deputy, Pam Posada wrote, "He's been a con man for a long time!"
Judge McDonald replied: "Yes and in my experience, a Mormon money man
makes the Jews and Chinese look like rank amateurs!"
The Spokesman-Review makes clear that this conduct may be in violation
of rules of conduct for federal judges. Nationally know legal ethics
expert Stephen Gillers says "Speaking generally, if the notes reflect
religious or racial animosity or demeaning comments, that's a violation
of the code of professional conduct for U.S. judges. There could be a
sanction, including a public reprimand." Seattle University School of
Law professor John Strait says that the notes are public, and the Judge
can't claim privacy for them, "A judge who is biased privately is also
biased when he sits on the bench. The federal judiciary doesn't allow
judges to duck these issues."
The Federal District Chief Judge William Fremming Nielsen, who oversees
the district covering Eastern Washington, including Yakima where
McDonald presides, arranged an interview for McDonald with the
Spokesman-Review, and asked McDonald to explain the notes. "Respect for
the court in the eyes of the public is critically important," Nielsen
After the interview, Nielsen said he is satisfied with McDonald's
explanations. "Any communication that's short is subject to
misinterpretation," he said. McDonald claims in every case that the
notes were misunderstood. He says the note reading "Ah is im po tent!"
is self depreciation, and refers to McDonald, not the defendant in the
case. He says he never saw the note from his court clerk about the
And when asked in the interview about the note mentioning Mormons,
McDonald said, "I'm sure that I made the remark out of respect for the
Mormons I know."
But regardless of his explanations, McDonald's reputation may have
already been damaged beyond repair. The Associated Press ran a story
about the Judge's conduct in its national wire. The story has appeared
in dozens if not hundreds of newspapers throughout the U.S.
Judge Won't Apologize for Notes
Associated Press 30Jan00 N6
Federal judge's notes insulted defendants and lawyers
Seattle WA Post-Intelligencer 31Jan00 N6
Offensive words put cloud over federal court
Seattle WA Times 1Feb00 N6
Judge disparages attorneys, defendants in inflammatory notes
Court TV 31Jan00 N6
By Harriet Ryan