More than four years ago — on Dec. 7, 2007 — Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle received the strongest disciplinary action in his profession short of suspension or removal from the bench. The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct censured Wulle for his comments and behavior during a 2006 juvenile drug court training session in Los Angeles. Shortly before the censure, Wulle told The Columbian, “I’ll take my consequences and learn from the experience.”Apparently, that particular learning process has not occurred, according to a Wednesday statement from that same Commission on Judicial Conduct. Again, the local judge is back in hot water with the independent agency that serves as ethical and behavioral arbiter of the judicial branch of state government. The commission now maintains that Wulle violated codes of judicial conduct, specifically failing “to maintain order and decorum in proceedings” and engaging “in a pattern of discourteous, impatient and undignified behavior.”
Wulle has 21 days to answer the commission’s complaints. On Wednesday, he told The Columbian that, if he has made mistakes, he will correct them. But the statement from the commission casts yet another cloud of embarrassment over Wulle’s office. At four public court hearings, according to the complaint, Wulle engaged in conduct unbecoming of a judge. One of those was a high-profile March 2009 sentencing of Matthew Hastings, who was convicted of attempted murder of a police officer At that hearing, Judge Wulle shouted at Hastings to “shut your damn mouth.” It doesn’t take a legal scholar to ascertain that such an outburst erodes the order and decorum that a judge is charged with maintaining. Typically, courtroom decorum is disrupted by those appearing before the judge; rarely is it violated by the robed authority behind the bench. Wednesday’s statement from the commission did not include details about the other hearings in which Wulle’s conduct was called into question.
The official 2007 order of censure included Wulle’s comment: “From these allegations I have learned that I cannot step out of my role as a judge even when I’m 2,000 miles from home.” And especially back home, when you’re inside your own courtroom. The commission said the judge’s conduct during the 2006 session in Los Angeles included vulgarities and offensive comments about gays, blacks and Jews. And his emotional fit at the 2009 sentencing hearing became the subject of an appeal by Hastings. Later, Hastings’ conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeals.
To be clear, Wulle was endorsed by The Columbian in 2008, the year after he was censured. We took that stance reluctantly because Wulle was the better of two candidates. As we noted at the time, the conduct that drew the censure “was serious,” but his opponent in 2008, Ernest Edsel, “not only has not served as judge, but has a track record of numerous contentious encounters with his colleagues.”
These new allegations against Wulle are no less serious. He owes the public and the Commission on Judicial Conduct answers to at least two questions. First, what precipitated these recent allegations? Second, why did Wulle not “take my consequences and learn from the experience” of that censure more than four years ago?
All of the people who work in the judicial system and all of the people who are protected or prosecuted by it deserve strict adherence by judges to higher-bar standards of conduct. So do the taxpayers who help pay for that judicial system.