It has been a bad week for those poor naïve souls who imagine judges as wizened, white-haired, grandfatherly figures. At least at the state level, we are learning about judges with tempers more along the lines of grumpy pitbulls than anything else.
This week, we heard about a judge in Washington who has been charged by a state judicial board with violating codes of conduct. The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct accused Judge John Wulle of failing to “to maintain order and decorum in proceedings” and engaging “in a pattern of discourteous, impatient and undignified behavior.”
So, how exactly did Judge Wulle allegedly misbehave? Let’s take a read, and, even better, we’ve got video….
An article from Oregon Live recounts an incident of Judge Wulle’s alleged rudeness:
The teenager didn’t want a lawyer and tried to admit to the probation violation that landed him in Clark County Juvenile Court.
“I’m not going to let him fly solo and practice law when he hasn’t even finished high school,” Superior Court Judge John Wulle told the boy’s mother. “If you’re too stupid to know that what I’m trying to do is protect you, then let me spell it out for you,” Wulle said to the teenager, his voice rising. “I’m trying to protect you, your rights and your freedoms. So step one is that I bring you back with an attorney, then we talk.”
The March 2011 incident is one of four courtroom outbursts by the judge over the past three years that led the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct to charge him with engaging in “a pattern of discourteous, impatient and undignified behavior.”
Once the story got picked up, Judge Wulle (who is up for re-election in the August 7 primary) did apologize and acknowledge his improper approach. In keeping with grand tradition of public apologies, he says he will be going to therapy to manage stress better:
“I tend to be very direct in my approach to disrespectful litigants,” Wulle wrote. “It is not the proper approach to make and I will receive counseling from a therapist to reduce my anxiety and stress level so as not to behave in this manner in the future.”
In the case of the “stupid” comment, the judge said juveniles are not allowed to waive their right to an attorney without the attorney present.
“I was very loud and used a command voice to get his attention,” Wulle wrote. He should have calmly explained the situation, he said.
“My outburst toward the young man and his mother most likely intimidated him and made him more angry at the system than he had been before. I should never have used the word ‘stupid.’”
Maybe I’m just cynical, but the apology feels a little disingenuous, especially when you consider it isn’t the first time Judge Wulle has gotten called out for raging at litigants. In 2009, he got called out for getting into a tiff with an (admittedly disrespectful) man who tried to kill police officers during a SWAT standoff. In court, he told the defendant to “Shut your damn mouth, sir!” You can see that video here.
And he was censured in 2007 by the committee for “behavior at a training conference in Los Angeles 2006 in which he used profanity, made an obscene gesture in response to a request to lower his voice and referred to Clark County’s group facilitator as ‘the black gay guy,’ according to commission documents.”
Here is the clip in question from the March 2011 incident. It’s kind of sad to watch. The kid and his mother look pretty worn out and penitent, but that doesn’t stop Judge Wulle from losing his temper:
Several people in the article have apparently come to his defense. Individuals like one Paul Henderson:
“I can say without reservation that Judge Wulle is one of the finest judges I have ever known,” wrote Paul L. Henderson of Vancouver. “He is smart, he is fair, he is not afraid of hard work, and he is courteous to all parties — even in the face of rudeness and disrespect.”
Not to be contentious, Mr. Henderson, but judging by the above incidents, I’m not sure the word “courteous” means what you think it means. It will be interesting to see what the panel finds, or if the state voters will even care in August.
Clark County judge charged with rude courtroom behavior [Oregon Live]