A King County judge is being investigated for allegedly using a racial slur, KNKX has learned – a development that has swirled around legal circles for weeks and raised questions about election plans.
Judge Susan Mahoney resigned as Chief Presiding Judge of the King County District Court in late February after colleagues accused her of saying the N-word during a recent meeting with employees. She is currently a judge in Burien in the Southern Division of the King County District Court.
King County District Court communications officer Troy Brown said Judge Matthew York replaced Mahoney as chief presiding judge. Mahoney has served as Chief Presiding Judge, a position that is responsible for overseeing the court’s business and administrative duties, for the past two years.
Additionally, Mahoney, who was elected three times, is eligible for re-election this year. Mahoney, 58, a former assistant city attorney in Des Moines, Washington, did not say if she plans to run again, but in a sign that she intends to start raising money for a campaign, she recently registered with the Public Disclosure Commission.
If Mahoney decides to seek re-election, she already has at least one opponent. Andrea Jarmon, a black judge who worked in King County Superior Court and practiced criminal and family law, said she intends to run for seat of Mahoney.
Some colleagues, however, are calling for Mahoney’s immediate resignation as a King County District Court judge. Several judges have complained to the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conductan investigative body responsible for sanctioning judges.
Word of Mahoney’s use of the racial slur spread slowly, and his career is now on the line.
Reaction from colleagues
In an email obtained by KNKX dated April 1, York wrote to staff to tell them he was aware that “many of you have heard that there is an allegation that a KCDC judge used racist language in a meeting”.
York does not name the judge but writes that “the judge in question will have no supervisory role with staff and will not appear in court until this matter is resolved.” York explains that only the commission can discipline a judge, but assures staff that they are taking the allegation seriously and addressing the issue.
In a letter sent to the commission last month and obtained by KNKX, King County District Court Judge Marcine Anderson wrote that she was outraged by Mahoney’s use of the N-word.
“It makes me sick to write this word, even in the context of this post, but I find it necessary to use your exact language for clarity – appalling language that fell from your lips with such ease and such comfort that he might not have been the first time you said that word socially,” Anderson wrote in the letter, dated March 1, 2022, which was also sent to Mahoney.
In the letter, Anderson argues that because of the use of the word, “it is difficult to imagine a situation in which an African-American litigant, attorney, or witness could appear before you and be able to see you. as an unbiased, unbiased or just judge.” The King County District Court handles criminal misdemeanor cases, domestic violence protection orders, small claims, and other matters.
Anderson also thanks Mahoney for stepping down as Chief Presiding Judge of the King County District Court, but asks him to resign altogether.
Minutes of the meeting
The February 9 Zoom meeting that precipitated her resignation as Chief Presiding Judge concerned the use of derogatory terms, such as “Nazi”, among employees in the workplace “where the intention had been to intimidate , demean, harass and intimidate others,” Mahoney said in a statement.
“My position was that hate speech can never be tolerated and that the use of words such as insults or derogatory terms is not protected by free speech,” Mahoney continued. “To illustrate my point, I repeated an example of harmful hate speech given to me by one of the attendees at the meeting, and said ‘like the N-word’.”
Mahoney said she only used the full word after detecting confusion over what exactly she meant by “the N-word.”
“At the time, I hadn’t internalized that the word could still have a hurtful impact when used not as an epithet but in an explanatory context,” Mahoney said. “I have never used this word in casual conversation and the word does not fall easily and comfortably from my lips. Statements and speculation to the contrary are lies.
In her statement, Mahoney vows never to say the word again in any context.
A source, who wished to remain anonymous so the commission could complete its work, disputes Mahoney’s account. The source said there was no confusion at the meeting, but Mahoney addressed the N-word to the only black person in the meeting – Regina Alexander, the court’s director of probation – comparing her use to the use of the word “Nazi”.
Through his attorney, Vonda Sargent, Alexander declined to comment.
Application of the Judicial Code of Ethics
A separate source who spoke to KNKX on condition of anonymity, in part because she thinks voters should decide whether a judge stays in power, said they heard Mahoney make an inappropriate comment at least once, when she called a black employee a watermelon lover. The source said he was shocked by the behavior and has since sent a complaint about the incident to the commission.
Asked about the incident, Mahoney replied in a text message that she did not know where the allegation came from and could not respond to a rumour.
The Judicial Ethics Commission can impose different levels of discipline. After censure, the highest level of discipline, which means the judge’s behavior has undermined public trust, the commission can recommend to the state Supreme Court that a judge be suspended or removed from office.
Reiko Callner, executive director of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, said that due to confidentiality rules, she could neither affirm nor deny that a complaint existed. Callner explained that there are 11 appointed members of the commission who meet a handful of times a year to vote on disciplinary decisions involving judges. The next meeting is scheduled for April 22, but investigation timelines vary widely and judges have the ability to respond and appeal.
The vast majority of complaints are dismissed because they are submitted by litigants who are unhappy with the decisions, Callner said. Last year, the commission received more than 500 complaints.
When asked what consequences there might be for a judge who used a racial slur, Callner said the punishment would depend on the specific circumstances, but added that the commission tends to deal with cases of discrimination or sexual misconduct more severely lately, following societal norms.
Culture in King County District Court
A judge who works with Mahoney but asked to remain anonymous out of respect for his colleagues who are awaiting the end of the investigation, said it was important to talk about it because “if people don’t know about it, nothing will happen. switch”. .”
“Doing nothing perpetuates systemic racism,” the judge said.
The judge said concerns had been raised about Mahoney’s management style and they had heard co-workers bashing Mahoney. They also said Mahoney lacked candor when explaining why she was stepping down as presiding judge.
No one is asking for his defense, the judge said.
“Nobody’s ‘oh my god, what’s going on with Susan,'” they said. “She doesn’t have a great reputation.”
A King County District Court culture assessment shared with KNKX, which was conducted last year by Creative Ground, an organization that helps resolve workplace conflict and dysfunction, referenced the Chief Presiding Judge’s “punitive style” that makes some staff feel unsafe. . The assessment also indicated that a lack of agreement between judges at different locations and the Chief Presiding Judge had caused confusion.
In an interview with KNKX, Mahoney pointed out that the report also characterized the management style of other judges in unflattering terms, such as dismissive and belittling clerks, creating an abusive environment.
“It was a difficult and extraordinary time,” Mahoney said, referring to the pandemic. “Not a single piece of this tribunal has functioned as before.”
Mahoney said she had to balance courthouse security with public access to justice.
“It was a tough course, and I stepped up,” she said, noting that she sometimes speaks loudly, which can be perceived as harsh, as she is partially deaf. “It was the feelings at the time. I can’t ignore them.
“I think we all have PTSD,” Mahoney continued. “It was just a product of those frustrations.”
But Teri Rogers Kemp, a black lawyer who practices criminal law and advocates for police accountability, said Mahoney should continue as a judge comes down to using that one word — the N-word.
“That word immediately triggers trauma, and it triggers anger. It’s provocative. It’s insulting. It reminds a black person of the circumstances of being an enslaved person, of being a person who has very limited rights under Jim Crow laws, under the laws that exist today, where you see so many black people shot and killed by police,” Rogers Kemp said.
“My experience as a black person is that whenever that word comes out of a white person, it automatically says hostility. I intend to be hostile towards you. And I think most white people know that,” she said.