Shelton, WA (1-20-21) — George Steele has been an attorney much of his life and, while no scholar, is familiar with the law–at least criminal law. But a judge’s judicial temperament is as important as his grasp of the law. Steele’s is brittle, harsh, and presumptuous.
Steele spent some years in Thurston County as a district court deputy prosecutor. He wasn’t especially good at it. He then spent a few years as a mediocre private practice attorney while sharing office space with Bob Brungardt, esq. and Bruce Finlay, esq. in Shelton. The office layout remains fresh because this reporter had to march into it to openly demand payment from George for process services George had requested. Despite the years, such arrogance affects Steele’s courtroom demeanor to this day. He remains an insensitive ham fisted martinet and an approximation of the federal judge (Julius Hoffman) who presided over the Chicago 7 trial.
There were some civil cases and a couple of criminal ones where I was either the opposing party or assisting them. George wasn’t hard to beat and lost all of those cases. Just because you graduate from law school and passed the State bar doesn’t make you a lawyer. Steele is proof of that.
Still, incompetence is as pernicious as corruption in the public sector or on the bench. In addition, exemplary judicial temperament is the sine qua non of a good judge. Steele has none. He’s brittle, almost intoxicated with the power attached to the king’s court, and, most importantly, barely masks a thinly veiled presumption of guilt and hostility toward pro se litigants. Conversely, he is more respectful of card carrying attorneys who are careful (e.g. Bob Brungardt, esq.) to suck up to George like any adroit sycophant would. Videos of the loud smacking noises and evidence of the baggage judge Steele and local attorneys bring to these hearings are being processed/edited. They will appear below, sometimes annotated, when completed.
One recent example consisted of a ZOOM session of assorted defendants being arraigned and many of their attorneys appearing via ZOOM. It became apparent that neither yours truly nor Steele nor the courtroom staff were sufficiently familiar with the software to accommodate a defense attorney’s request when she asked to speak with her client in a ‘breakout box’. After some apologies and fumbling around by the courtroom staff, the attorney and her client who made the request disappeared from the ZOOM screen…then a prompt appeared on mine inviting me to JOIN–which I did. The attorney immediately appeared/sounded uncomfortable with my avatar’s appearance in the breakout box and I ‘left’ it within seconds after recognizing she had sought a feature permitting her to conduct privileged communication with her client. She alerted Steele who immediately assumed the worst when he asked me to unmute. Rather than ask for an explanation/clarification despite his own confusion relating to the feature, he lead with threats to exclude an observer (myself) from present and future ZOOM court hearings–a direct violation of the 6 Amendment wherein the Constitution guarantees the right to transparency in ALL such proceedings not only to the public, but the litigants! Steele then launched into an insulting lecture about the privileged nature of attorney-client communications, prompting this reporter to opine “for the record, you learn something new [what ZOOM breakout boxes are] every day.” This recorded comment was made after proffering the fact of the prompt directing my avatar to join.
This is only scratching the surface of Steele’s inappropriate courtroom demeanor and deeply ingrained bias against defendants and scrutiny. He is incapable of restraining what goes against his punitive nature. In fact, when it became apparent he had won the race for the judicial position in an election against Eric Valley, esq., Mason County’s office for the public defender immediately announced it would invoke a blanket affidavit of prejudice against Steele (effectively removing him from presiding over any of those cases) which add up to over 80-90% of all the criminal cases heard by the Mason County District Court. This created a crisis of confidence among Mason County’s commissioners because the bill for a judge pro tem to replace Steele for the cases at issue would have been substantial.
Similarly, Steele makes it a point (as does the deputy prosecutor) to warn potential jurors against jury nullification (sitting in judgment of an unfair criminal statute or its application) and to consider only the facts presented for/against an accused malefactor. In fact, jury nullification is a fundamental right retained by the people–a long history of precedent supports that right. But it’s best not to twist the lion’s tail by voicing an opinion on the matter to the court or other jurors. Save that exercise for your most intimate and trusted confidantes. Understand, your fellow jurors will behave as a room of snitches. Nothing you say is private, no matter how superficially innocuous. Be confident, but keep your mouth shut and your own counsel.
If you’re a defendant, file an affidavit of prejudice (a procedural right you have if exercised BEFORE Steele renders any discretionary rulings) ASAP with the court clerk. This will remove Steele from your case…unless you prefer a judge who set bail at $1,000,000 for a defendant who was cited for driving on a suspended license.
Disqualifying Judges: Expanding Washington Law
Author: Michael Kutzner
Guest Editor: Lara Cullinane-Smith
February 3, 2020 10:00am
Disqualifying one judge from a case in Washington is a fundamental right. No reasoning is needed. However, a judge may only be disqualified before the judge has made a discretionary ruling or order in the case. The RCW provided (now expanded) slim examples of actions by a judge which are not discretionary ruling or order. In Godfrey v. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Ltd., 453 P.3d 992 (2019), the Washington Supreme Court analyzes the few examples and adds another for clarification.
Godfrey was a bartender who handled wine bottles. On this occasion, the wine bottle he was handling shattered in his hand. He filed suit for against the winery, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Ltd. and the bottle manufacturer, Saint-Gobain Containers Inc.
The case was assigned to Judge Johnson, who set the initial case schedule and discovery cutoff deadlines. The case was later assigned to Judge Stolz. Judge Stolz was presented a stipulated and jointly proposed order extending the parties’ deadlines to disclose witnesses. Judge Stola ruled on and entered the order. Two months later, prior to any other rulings, Godfrey filed an affidavit of prejudice and a motion for Judge Stolz’s recusal. Judge Stolz denied the motion. Judge Stolz subsequently presided over the bench trial.
Godfrey appealed the ruling at trial, arguing the trial court erred in rejecting his affidavit of prejudice and motion for recusal. The Court of Appeals agreed with Godfrey and held the trial court erred in rejecting the affidavit of prejudice.
The defendants petitioned for review. The petition was stayed pending a decision on point with the subject matter, which ultimately had this case remanded back to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appels reached the same conclusion as it did previously.
The Washington Supreme Court then granted review on whether an affidavit of prejudice was timely under then Washington law when it was submitted after entry of a stipulated order extending discovery deadlines.
Judicial acts which had been carved out as acceptable prior to an affidavit of prejudice include: arranging the calendar, setting a date for a hearing or trial, issuing an arrest warrant, presiding over criminal preliminary proceedings under CrR 3.2.1, arraigning the accused, fixing bail, and presiding over juvenile detention and release hearings under JuCR 7.3 and 7.4.
The Washington Supreme Court previously held an order granting a joint trial continuance motion was discretionary because the decision to grant or deny such a request required the judge to ‘”consider various factors, such as diligence, materiality, due process, a need for orderly procedure, and the possible impact of the result on trial.” Defendants urged the Court to follow this reasoning.
However, the Court held rulings on pretrial stipulated orders relating to scheduling and deadlines fall within the exception for “the arrangement of the calendar,” making the above analysis moot. Therefore, the entry of the stipulated order did not render Godfrey’s affidavit of prejudice untimely.
The Court’s holding compelled a change in the wording of RCW 4.12.050 to include “ruling on an agreed continuance” as permissible prior to the filing of an affidavit of prejudice. Thus, parties now have greater latitude and, potentially, time in making a proper decision of whether or not to disqualify a judge from the proceedings. Whether this is favorable or not will depend on the subjective desires of each respective party. Proper case analysis and strategy are imperative to keeping the law on your side.
[Look here for future videos of George in all his judicial splendor, marking how obsequious local attorneys appearing in his court behave. It’s embarrassing.]