Judge Wulle takes stand as conduct hearing begins

He says four events not representative of his 30-year law career

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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After spending 12 years on the bench, Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle took the stand Monday during a hearing to determine if he violated codes of conduct.

Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct members heard testimony relating to four courtroom actions over a three-year period. If found guilty, Wulle could face admonishment, a written warning or a censure. He lost his re-election bid earlier this month to Vancouver attorney David Gregerson.

"Sometimes I do things I wish I had not done," Wulle said. "I'm just human."

After viewing courtroom videos from all the events, a visibly upset Wulle said it was unfair to pick four events from a 30-year career and throw them in his face.

"Excuse me for being blunt, but it's not fair to destroy a man in this way," he said. He said the case -- and media attention -- hurt his family, ended his career and is now putting his reputation is at stake.

In his opening statements, Disciplinary Counsel Steven Reisler argued that Wulle's behavior during the hearings shows a pattern of problematic behavior.

Wulle's attorney, Josephine Townsend, said four events over a three-year period doesn't really show a pattern. She also said her client isn't denying his actions.

"This is not a case where Judge Wulle said 'I didn't do this,'" Townsend said.

"He is remorseful," she said. "I think you'll see that he is."

On the stand, Wulle said he wasn't denying some of his actions were inappropriate but believed the board was overcharging the case. He also thought it was unfair to use the four cases to characterize his behavior during "thousands" of other cases each year.

The hearings in question include the high-profile sentencing of Matthew Hastings, in which Judge Wulle told Hastings to shut his "damn" mouth and threatened to have him gagged.

Wulle said the video shown during his hearing didn't include two weeks of disrespectful behavior Hastings showed in court. His reaction was the result of that behavior, he said.

Wulle sentenced Hastings to about 120 years in prison for firing gunshots at SWAT officers during a standoff in Cascade Park on July 18, 2007. One shot seriously injured an officer, who later returned to duty.

Hastings was convicted in a jury trial of four counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree assault.

Other actions in question before the commission are: Wulle telling a juvenile that he was "stupid" for wanting to plead guilty without an attorney; Wulle raising his voice at a man using a Russian interpreter when the man argued that a paternity test didn't use the proper DNA testing; and the judge holding a juvenile in contempt of court and having him jailed after the teen swore in court.

Wulle told the board he is not infallible.

"There's only one man who makes that claim, he lives in the Vatican," Wulle said.

The hearing is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. today. The panel will deliberate after the hearing and will make a written ruling at a later date.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.columbian.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.