Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle got into a shouting match with Matthew Hastings, whom he sentenced to 120 years in prison in March 2009. The incident is mentioned by the state judicial conduct panel in charging Wulle with violating codes of conduct.
See a video of the incident at the bottom of this story.
A state judicial board has charged Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle with violating codes of conduct.
In a statement of charges released Wednesday, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct accused Wulle of failing “to maintain order and decorum in proceedings” and engaging “in a pattern of discourteous, impatient and undignified behavior.”
The judge is required to answer the complaint within 21 days. Upon his answer, the commission will either work out a resolution with Wulle’s attorney or schedule a public hearing to decide any discipline. Potential sanctions range from an admonishment, or written warning, to a censure with a recommendation to the Washington Supreme Court for suspension or removal.
Wulle, 61, said Wednesday afternoon, after meeting with the commission locally all day, that he was first notified about the complaint a month ago. Per the request of his attorney, Josephine Townsend, the judge declined to discuss details of the complaint, but said he understands “judges are held to a higher standard.”
“Every judge is subject to review,” he said. “If I’ve made mistakes, I will correct them.”
In the complaint, the commission lists four public court hearings in which Wulle is accused of violating the codes, including the high-profile sentencing hearing of attempted murder defendant Matthew Hastings in March 2009.
Hastings was accused of shooting at several police officers during a lengthy SWAT standoff in east Vancouver in 2007 and was sentenced to 120 years in prison.
The sentencing hearing featured a heated exchange between Hastings and Wulle after the judge asked the defendant if he graduated high school. Hastings said no and became enraged, his face and neck flushing red.
“Mr. Hastings, don’t you press your luck with me, son!” Wulle warned.
“Or what?” Hastings yelled. “You gonna sentence me?”
“Shut your damn mouth, sir!” Wulle yelled, threatening to have Hastings gagged.
“OK, have me gagged then,” Hastings bellowed.
Wulle’s statements were highly publicized and were the subject of an appeal by Hastings. The Court of Appeals ultimately upheld Hastings’ conviction, saying there was no evidence the judge was biased but had simply lost his patience.
The higher court also noted Wulle had apologized to people in the courtroom for losing his temper and saying the word “damn.”
The other instances cited in the commission’s complaint included two juvenile court hearings, on July 6, 2010, and March 11, 2011, and an Oct. 25 hearing concerning a petition for a protection order. The details of those hearings were not made available in the commission’s complaint.
The judge has been disciplined previously by the commission 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.
Wulle was censured the following year, the most severe disciplinary action the commission issues, short of asking the state Supreme Court to suspend or remove a judge.
Asked whether the judge’s previous sanction could factor into the commission’s resolution of the current complaint, Reiko Callner, the commission’s executive director, said: “Certainly, the fact a judge has a previous discipline is weighed,” but did not offer specifics.
Wulle, a former assistant attorney general, was appointed by Clark County commissioners to the District Court bench in 1997. In 2000, he was elected to an open seat on the Superior Court bench. He is up for election this year.
Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-735-4516.