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Capitol Hill case at center of flap over judge’s cozy relationship with KOMO’s ‘Seattle is Dying’-themed coverage, political group — UPDATE

A call from the Seattle City Attorney for a municipal court judge to step down from his position leading the court over “apparent violations of the canons of judicial ethics” is also shining new light on Seattle media and activists who claim they are dedicated to shaping more accountable government in the city.

Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal, director of the Department of Public Defense, say in a letter released Wednesday that Seattle Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna should step down as presiding judge and recuse himself from criminal cases after “predetermining harsh outcomes for defendants and advertising the sentencings to local media,” Crosscut reports.

The case at the center of the unusual courtroom activities has a Capitol Hill connection. The crime took place last November when an angry man punched a victim without provocation in the crosswalk at Broadway and Pine. The blow sent the victim’s headphones flying and left the shaken man with a swollen lip. It landed the assailant, Francisco Calderon, in jail and set in motion a bizarre episode in Seattle justice with a judge allegedly shaping his proceedings for a television reporter and a political group.

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Holmes and Khandelwal say McKenna regularly “criticized the City’s sentencing recommendations” and “urged the City to request longer sentences so that you can impose a sentence between the City’s and defense’s recommendations” —

As Calderon’s case played out with a plea agreement focused on his mental health, Holmes and Khandelwal say McKenna sentenced him, instead, to 364 days in jail. “This was an extraordinary sentence, the maximum allowed by the law, rarely imposed in Seattle Municipal Court,” they write.

They say McKenna went even further by issuing a so-called drag order “requiring corrections officers to bring (Calderon) to court against his will.”

Why the big show? A KOMO television reporter and a member of a political group dedicated to pro-policing and incarceration policies were — surprisingly — in the courtroom to witness the proceedings:

“Your invitation to Ms. Coats and apparent invitation to Mr. Markovich suggests you decided the outcome in Mr. Calderon’s matter before sentencing – before the parties had an opportunity to present argument and before Mr. Calderon could address the court,” the letter calling for McKenna to step down reads. “These statements and your invitation constitute a non-public statement indicating you had decided the outcome of the sentencing prior to hearing argument. Your invitation essentially constituted a pledge to do something unusual in Mr. Calderon’s case.”

Speak out Seattle has denied that Jennifer Coats is part of the group, saying that Holmes and Khandelwal “have confused us with another organization.” The City Attorney’s office acknowledged Thursday morning that it should have identified the organization as Safe Seattle, a similar advocacy campaign that shares similar points of view to the Speak out Seattle effort.

In late January, the results of the Safe Seattle advocate’s attendance at the hearing played out in a report from Seattle talk and news radio station KIRO FM that explained how Coats was “inspired to take a closer look at Seattle’s crime and its justice system after running into Seattle Judge Ed McKenna.” KIRO FM reported Coats’ thoughts on the Calderon case and her advocacy for less lenient sentences:

“Probation didn’t sound like reasonable sentencing either since there is no accountability for Calderon,” Coats said. “He has offended many times while on probation.” The case drew Coats’ interest. She has concerns with how the city treats repeat, violent offenders. “The hearings that I witnessed, they were all pretty much the same,” she said. “They were dismissing charges and letting people free to go, possibly on probation, but not wanting to put them in jail. With a matter of violent crimes, I think public safety needs to be of concern; not allowing somebody to go back out onto the streets to re-offend, which this person has done 72 times.”

Matt Markovich, meanwhile, filled this story for KOMO: “Seattle City Attorney asks for freedom for man convicted 72 times.” Markovich notes that McKenna “declined our request for an interview.”

In addition to questions the situation raises about McKenna’s ethics, the case and its fallout place KOMO’s continuing “Seattle is Dying”-themed coverage of homelessness, addiction, and crime in new light. It also raises questions about the goals of pro-policing political groups which have become an active element in the district City Council races across Seattle.

CHS has asked the most recent candidates entering the race for District 3 if they would be willing to participate in a Safe Seattle or Speak out Seattle forum. “I’m open to have conversations with any voters that want to… any groups that want to be engaged,” Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce head, Pridefest organizer, and now candidate for City Council Egan Orion told CHS. Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf, on the other hand, said no. “I’m not really sure that they are completely unbiased and coming to the table in good faith, so my inclination is no,” DeWolf said.

The full letter from Holmes and Khandelwal is below.

UPDATE 4:30 PM: McKenna has responded to the letter and says he is “declining your suggestion to as Seattle Municipal Court’s presiding judge.” “I frequently invite members of the public to visit our courts to see how our system actually works,” he writes. “I categorically deny your allegations that I have violated the Cannons of Judicial Conduct by initiating invitations to my our court and by pre-determining a sentence.” The full letter is below.

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37 thoughts on “Capitol Hill case at center of flap over judge’s cozy relationship with KOMO’s ‘Seattle is Dying’-themed coverage, political group — UPDATE

    • And as has been discussed in other reporting, he has been on felony probation more than a dozen times and has failed misdemeanor probation repeatedly by refusing to do the mental health and drug treatment ordered. So why order him to do it again? And anyone who has ever worked in a felony or misdemeanor court knows that “drag” orders are not uncommon. You can only refuse to come to court so many times before those antics result in an order compelling the jail to bring the person to court.

  1. This is a joke right? He punched an innocent victim and is a criminal…SET HIM FREE? These people are the problem with this city. I’m ready to put money towards anyone ready to take on these clowns.

    • So I don’t think you are getting where the Seattle Attorney’s are coming from here. The issue is that the judge is making a predetermined position is being very obvious about it. In this case, the Judge has made a predetermined position that the defendant is guilty. Now remember, Innocent until proven guilty. It is the prosecutions job to prove the defendant guilty and a judge already making a predetermination is grossly inappropriate. What’s to stop other people this judge has sentenced from appealing their sentences because of the judges history of predetermining judgments? It does not give off an impartial court, that is what the city attorney and public defender are getting at.

      • @Ella Jurado

        I don’t at all, the guy is a prick. But it is inappropriate for a judge to ever appear to be partial. Their role is to hear the case and make a determination. Case in point:

        If the judge thinks the recommended sentence is to lenient the judge can add more time to the persons sentence at the sentencing.

        Judges must ALWAYS remain impartial, it’s literally what makes our legal system work with the whole innocent until proven guilty thing we like to through around.

        Plus the rules for a judge to remain impartial are in our local city charter, our state Constitution and the federal Constitution.

        You may want to read them.

      • @ Nikki – the document above indicates it was a sentencing hearing – not a trial. If he was coming in for sentencing that would mean that he’d already been determined to be guilty (in point of fact he pleaded guilty), so the judge was not predetermining anything about his guilt or innocence at that point – that was already done.
        Not only that – this was Calderon’s 2nd sentencing hearing. The judge in question had already heard the prosecutors recommendation once and asked the prosecutor to review the plea and the defendant’s history, so he was already familiar with the details of the case and recommendations of the prosecutor and was not in agreement with those recommendations.

        I for one applaud this judge and will certainly vote for him again. Holmes I will not..

      • This hearing was not about determining guilt or innocence. It was a sentencing hearing intended to determine the appropriate sentence for this defendant. The prosecutor and defense attorney would submit their recommendation, theirmight be some testimony from the victim or others, and the judge would determine an appropriate sentence. Guilt had already been determined.

      • This was a SENTENCING hearing. Guilt had already been determined because the guy plead guilty. The court record is available for anyone to read online.

  2. A year in jail for violently punching a random, innocent person seems appropriate.

    No right-winger here, I just happen to think violent people should be punished with separation from society, not coddled and excused.

  3. Pete Holmes needs to be voted out. He is one of the major issues with this city right now. Letting carrier criminals walk with a slap on the wrist is unacceptable. VOTE HIM OUT!!!!!

  4. I’d like to know which groups that hold candidate forums DeWolf thinks are unbiased. And while I wouldn’t touch the lunacy at Safe Seattle with a 10-foot pole, the leadership and dialogue at Speak Out Seattle is much appreciated. Big difference between the two, and if you don’t understand that, well, that’s on you.

  5. Only in Seattle will you find the city attorney siding with dangerous serial offenders, and against a judge who feels obligated to protect the public against them.

    It’s normal for public defenders to side with street predators – that’s their job. But the city attorney? That’s insane.

    And how incredible is it that a local journalist is also being attacked, simply because his reporting on an important issue does not synch up with the ideological status quo?

  6. Is Holmes attack part of Pyramid Communications PR push of telling us the status quo of the city’s response to the drug addiction crisis is working just fine?

  7. Why some in Seattle are trying to discredit KOMO’s piece on the Homeless/Addiction problem is bizarre to me. Anyone with a pulse just has to go through their daily routine to realize this City has a massive problem. Sorry but its true, Seattle is dying. I get no pleasure in saying that.

    • Exactly! I just moved out of Seattle to the “sterile” city of Kirkland. The difference between anywhere in Seattle and anywhere on the Eastside is like night and day. There is homelessness and crime, but nothing like any neighborhood in Seattle. I don’t see tents, used needles, garbage, and I feel extremely safe walking at night. I still spend a lot of time in Capitol Hill, and would hope someday to move back, but if this city doesn’t clean up, I guess sterile it is.

      • You are comparing a city to a suburb. Kirkland and Eastside are nowhere near as walkable as Capitol Hill and downtown Seattle. The homeless are like tourists in this case. They stay where it is close to everything they need.

    • Because they weren’t truthful, Seattle has plenty of REAL problems without them having to make up stories about random people on the street and that’s EXACTLY what they did, WHY? Laziness?

  8. 1 year for being convicted of hitting a person in the face seems like reasonable sentence. As liberal as I am…I see no issue with anything done here. Seattle can not be chaos or anarchy and still be a nice place to live. Habitual offenders need to spend time out of society if they continue their ways. 3000 crimes by 100 habitual offenders…get these people off the street and Seattle will be better for it.

    • I agree. But I would say that the jail sentence needs to be accompanied by specific mental health evaluation and treatment, and that he needs to be followed closely when he leaves jail, to insure that he complies with mental health recommendations.

  9. It seem like everything I have read about our homeless problem and how our city leaders have handled it seems to match up with the narrative of Seattle Is Dying?

    Does anyone have thoughts on what our leaders agenda is? What are they getting out of all this? They are smart people. There is no way they believe the things they tell us. They are too smart to believe that drivel. But I still don’t get what they are getting out of this. Are they getting kickbacks from these non-profits that run all the homeless service organizations? They must be. The politicians great this huge demand for homeless services, people want the issue delt with, so the politicians propose these new levy’s and taxes to pay for the services, they politicians deal out contracts for services and get kickbacks from the leaders of the human service non-profits? Is that what’s going on?

    • The King County public defender signed on to the Budget for Justice letter last year that called for a “dismantling of the justice system.” Think about that. She’s an activist attorney and that is her goal – to rid us of the justice system and turn the whole shebang over to pet community groups. And Pete Holmes is now her best pal because the heat is all over him after the Seattle is Dying report drew attention to the fact that Holmes only bothers to prosecute half the cases sent to him by SPD. A diligent journalist (HINT HINT) might look at how many agreed recommendations are presented to judges (meaning prosecution and defense agree to a sentence, as was the case here) before believing the assertion, in the Holmes/Khandewal letter to McKenna, that it’s rare for the two sides to work together. It’s not at all rare. The letter to the judge was pure theater to take the heat off Holmes, which serves the defender’s goal to get rid of McKenna because he’s a tough judge. Defenders got together to do the same thing to Judge Michael Hurtado and private defense attorneys also threw money at his opponent in order to get rid of a tough judge.

  10. The only person acting improperly in this matter is Mr Holmes. If he had a problem with a judge the media is not the place to vent.

  11. I would like to ask Mr. Holmes why trying to allow repeat offenders who refuse drug and mental health treatment freedom is good for Seattle. A mentally ill person walks the streets, untreated, suffering. An innocent bystander gets hurt. No one wins here. Letting people languish on the streets and do whatever they want is not compassionate and it is not helping anyone. If it did, our problem would be solved.

    The City Council can address these issues (with or without a head tax) but they would have to rethink their priorities, which they are unwilling to do. I can’t believe we are short on money considering how booming the city is and we pass every tax levy. Certainly there must be a few things in the city that could reallocated to the alleged homelessness “emergency”.

  12. Loser Pete has a problem with a Judge upholding the law: Pete’s criminal constituent with 70+ prior convictions punches random stranger and Loser Pete has a problem with Judge sentencing the criminal to jail. LOL you can’t make this crap up.

  13. Judges do need to be impartial and not show partiality when seeing a judge. Inviting members of the public to see the case is good too. We need to participate in hearings and our government in general. When someone does a bad thing it does need to be punished based on laws and precedent.

    If the judge was prejudicious before hearing the evidence then he needs to recuse himself from the case.

    What I’ll argue is that I don’t believe our court systems are as “clean” as we would like to imagine. If this was a repeat offender that was wealthy or had a wealthy family, they might have a different experience. If they were not mentally ill or a drug user (self medicating) they would have a different experience. We have so my systemic issues with our systems that this issue just brings to light the plethora of issues we are struggling with.

    • Again…. this was NOT a trial, it was a sentencing hearing, and not only it was the *2nd* sentencing hearing…. The judge already knew that there was a guilty plea *and* the details of the case….

      Oh… and it has since come out that the two city attorneys who filed the complaint actually misquoted the judge… Audio tape of the meeting has been produced that proves it.

  14. Hmm, an article mentioning Safe Seattle and all of a sudden a bunch of sockpuppets, with “gotcha” user handles show up with one off comments about how “Seattle is Dying”?

    Harley Lever must have done his standard “flood the neighborhood blog comments” cattle call to his dozen or so followers!

    • Ha! I clearly use my name that is me! ELLA JURADO CAPITOL HILL RESIDENT 18 YEARS!
      Nope not a sock puppet just sick of the shit around Seattle!

  15. Zachary Wolff thinks he can only talk to people that don’t have a bias? I guess he plans on talking to no one, then.

  16. Great illustration of the problems our city faces. Let’s stop blurring the line between criminals and homeless. Most people experiencing homelessness are not criminals, are not violent, and are not a threat to passerby’s. The few who are should be dealt with appropriately. Social institutions, including the justice system, need to work on behalf of all. Things have gone out of balance in Seattle, where the rights of offenders are sacrosanct above the rights of the rest of us to walk down the street in peace.

    Vote out Pete Holmes.

    • Let’s stop blurring the line between criminals and homeless.

      First off, let’s stop giving Harley Lever and his “Safe” Seattle lunacy group the time of day. They are the ones who flood public discourse related to the homeless issue, be it news specials, town halls, council meetings, neighborhood blogs, you name it, with their insistence that all homeless are raping, murdering, drug addicts (this blog post no exception).

      Then they have the gall to call themselves “homeless advocates”, when in fact, their modus operandi of shouting down every and all solutions to the mental, drug and homeless issues is a primary cause of the current situation.

      They of course offer zero solutions themselves, but are very quick to pass the blame to everyone but themselves.

      • Sounds like they have taken lessons from Councilmember Sawant, who introduced that style of politics to this city in order to squelch dissent and advance her radical agenda. It is about time her tactics produced a strong response.