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For week ended January 30, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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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 said.

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 hispanic defendants.

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.

See also:

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


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