Judge admits losing self-control, pledges to improve

State panel charged Wulle with four courtroom outbursts

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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In response to a state judicial board’s complaint over his courtroom behavior, Judge John Wulle admits to losing his temper on several occasions and promises to receive counseling.

The Clark County Superior Court judge on Thursday answered the Washington Commission on Judicial Conduct’s statement of charges, which accuse him of failing to maintain courtroom decorum and engaging “in a pattern of discourteous, impatient and undignified behavior.” The charges relate to four court hearings over the past three years.

The judge submitted a 19-page response to the commission, which included letters of endorsement from seven Clark County attorneys. Wulle had 21 days to respond to the charges, which were filed Feb. 22.

The commission will take into account the judge’s response when deciding a potential sanction at a yet-to-be determined date.

Wulle addresses each of the court hearings that led to the charges, explaining that he lost his temper and stating that he does not condone his behavior. He promises to seek therapy and assistance from another Superior Court judge, Daniel Stahnke, whom Wulle said has an excellent temperament.

“I tend to be very direct in my approach to disrespectful litigants. 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,” Wulle wrote.

The charges relate to the high-profile sentencing hearing in March 2009 of cop-shooter Matthew Hastings in which the judge told Hastings to “shut your damn mouth” and threatened to have him gagged.

At another hearing in March 2011, the judge shouted at a juvenile that he was “stupid” for wanting to plead guilty to a probation violation without his attorney present.

In a hearing for a civil protection order in October 2011, Wulle told a man using a Russian interpreter: “This is not the Soviet Union.” The judge made the statement after the man argued that a paternity test did not use the proper DNA testing.

In another juvenile hearing in July 2010, Wulle held a teenager in contempt of court and ordered him to be jailed for five days after the teen swore at him.

“While I am not excusing my behavior, there was a period of time in between each event, and I believe that the stresses of the workload contributed to my lack of patience,” Wulle wrote. “I will make every endeavor to ensure that my behavior is not repeated.”

In letters on Wulle’s behalf, several attorneys described the judge as smart and fair.

“Yes, there have been incidents where Judge Wulle has raised his voice; however, it has not been out of anger or disrespect,” wrote Vancouver attorney Robert Vukanovich. “In those situations where I have seen Judge Wulle raise his voice, he has done so for the protection of the defendant.”

“He is thoughtful and open-minded and has consistently demonstrated an ability to withhold judgment until he has heard both sides,” wrote longtime Vancouver defense attorney Steven Thayer.

The commission will schedule a public hearing to determine Wulle’s discipline or negotiate a resolution through his attorney, Josephine Townsend. 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 was censured by the commission in 2007, the most severe disciplinary action the commission issues, short of asking the state Supreme Court to suspend or remove a judge. The discipline followed the judge’s behavior the previous year in Los Angeles, where 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.

Laura McVicker: http://twitter.com/col_courts;http://facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.