“Judge Judy” & Susan Mahoney Face Off At B-Town Blog Judge’s Forum
[REPORTER'S NOTE: Writing on the fast-paced exchanges of a candidates’ forum presents a challenge in conveying what they say with accuracy and balance. Therefore, many answers are paraphrased to ensure fairness to both participants. Candidate responses are generally presented in the order they answered questions. To hear their full remarks in context, you can listen to an MP3 of the entire forum by clicking below:]
The question on everyone’s mind was addressed at the outset when Judge Judith Eiler and former Deputy Prosecutor Susan Mahoney faced each other at an Oct. 19 candidates’ forum sponsored by The B-Town/Waterland blogs.
They are seeking election as King County Southwest District Court Judge, Position 2.
Eiler has served as district court judge for 18 years. Mahoney has also been a defense attorney and served as a judge pro tem, and currently is assistant city attorney for Des Moines.
How, Eiler was asked, having been disciplined three times for repeated demeaning and abusive treatment of defendants, can a defendant in her court expect they will receive justice?
The state Supreme Court found in those cases that “I was impatient,” she replied. “You have to be impatient occasionally and I was too brusque … I’m not warm and fuzzy.”
A judge needs “a tough demeanor and you have to move things along,” she added.
Eiler said the Supreme Court found only 15 sound bites in which she crossed the line. “I will tell you plainly that I am a blunt person. This is the people’s court and I speak the people’s language.
“I’m working on my patience every day,” she declared.
Mahoney said, however, “it’s a little bit disheartening to hear Judge Eiler say it was just 15 cases,” noting a district court clerk has said she behaved “that way in about 50 percent of the cases.”
Eiler is the only judge in the state who has “been suspended for her demeanor,” Mahoney continued.
That “she is justifying her behavior does disservice to all the other judges to treat defendants with dignity and respect. Defendants need “to know they will be fairly served. Justice happens … one defendant at a time.”
But Eiler countered that “Susan is incorrect.” The Supreme Court found only 15 instances of bad courtroom demeanor, and “if they were going to find more they would have found more.”
With the court system – and King County – facing significant budget reductions, will the option of community service as an alternative for paying fines for some offenses be limited?
“It’s a bit problematic,” Mahoney said, “but it should be allowed in some cases.”
With $101 of a $121 standard traffic fine going to the state, “tickets don’t make money,” she added. “The courts are not a for-profit business.”
Judges “should make their decisions on the basis of the case, on the basis of the law, on the basis of fines, and should not be counting pennies.”
Eiler said community service is allowed as an alternative in King County District Court “depending on the circumstances of the defendant,” calling it an “open policy.”
But judges will not automatically reduce fines “because we are good stewards of the county’s money.”
They may make larger reductions in larger fines, such as $550 for driving without auto insurance, she said, “particularly if the person did the right thing and got insurance” before appearing in court.
Asked if telling young defendants that they’re “idiots” really works, Eiler said:
“Usually I tell them that “they’re driving like idiots….
“Sometimes stern words from the judge is just what a teenage driver needs … and that they need to change their driving habits.”
Mahoney said she believes “people come to court to have their cases adjudicated … you can certainly maintain the same message while maintaining the dignity of the office and giving them respect.
“You’re not there to be their teacher, their mom, their conscience, but to hold them accountable. That is the role of the judge.”
Asked if being tough reduces repeat offenders, Eiler said when a defendant comes back a second and then a third time, she asks them “what would have gotten through to you?” Almost always they say, ‘you didn’t do anything to me’.
“Maybe if I had been more forceful the first time,” they wouldn’t have offended again, she added. “It doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, but it does work.”
Mahoney said, however, that not every young defendant realizes that what they did affects others – such as increasing the cost of their parents’ auto insurance.
Sometimes getting them to understand that takes a little more time, “but don’t insult them. The minute you do that people shut down and they are lost.”