'Cadillac Judge' whistle-blower asks court not to punish him

By DAVID AMMONS
The Associated Press [Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.]
5/8/02 2:27 AM
 

OLYMPIA (AP) -- Doug Schafer, a scrappy Tacoma lawyer who helped get a judge removed from the bench for corruption, has urged the state Supreme Court not to punish him by lifting his law license for a year.

But the Bar Association said Schafer himself was a wrongdoer, because he violated a client's confidentiality while blowing the whistle on the judge.

"If it's wrong to do what I did, I don't want to be a lawyer," an unrepentant Schafer told reporters after personally arguing his case to the high court on Tuesday.

By turns combative and subdued, Schafer told his story to the justices, asking for their leniency, if not their applause, for his decision to "rat" on a judge, even if it meant divulging information he learned from a client.

Schafer said he was tipped by a client in 1992 that Grant Anderson, then in private law practice, was involved in shady business dealings. Schafer said the client, businessman Bill Hamilton, had asked him to set up a one-person corporation so Hamilton could take advantage of a sweetheart deal being offered by Anderson.

Schafer did so, but alarm bells went off when he found himself in Pierce County Superior Court a few years later. The judge: Grant Anderson.

After grilling Hamilton, Schafer concluded that Anderson cheated the beneficiaries of an estate he once represented by selling a bowling alley to Hamilton at a reduced price. In exchange, Hamilton made $31,185 in secret payments on Anderson's new Cadillac.

Schafer then blew the whistle -- to the judiciary and its watchdog panels and to the news media. Anderson, by then nicknamed the "Cadillac Judge," was eventually removed from the bench by the high court and his license was suspended for two years.

No criminal charges were brought against the judge or Hamilton.

But Schafer got into trouble.

The bar association concluded that he had violated the attorney-client privilege and recommended that he be suspended for a year. Only the Supreme Court can impose such a sanction and Schafer requested a hearing.

Schafer told the court he was motivated solely by his desire to rid the bench of a corrupt judge.

"Every day, he wore a black robe just like you, and the evidence of his corruption was overwhelming," Schafer said.

In service of the greater good, "I committed professional treason. In common parlance, I was a rat. I ratted on my client. ... You have to ask what is more important, a judge's corruption or keeping secrets."

Schafer later told the nine justices "I feel no contrition. I don't feel what I did was wrong. ...

"My God, if a lawyer can't report a clearly corrupt judge, we have a real problem."

But Christine Gray, the bar's disciplinary attorney, told the court that Schafer himself chose to undermine the rule of law by betraying a client's confidence.

"We obviously have sympathy. We want corrupt judges reported," she said. But lawyers simply cannot ignore their basic responsibility to their clients, just to report a past crime or misdeed they suspect, she said.

Schafer caused "substantial injury" to his client, both financially and through the public humiliation that ensued, she said.

"He has appointed himself as the arbiter of what is moral and what is ethical," rather than obey the time-honored rules of professional conduct, she said.

The justices' comments were mixed. Justice Barbara Madsen criticized Schafer's decision to be "both judge and jury" but wondered aloud whether punishing him would undermine public confidence in the courts.

Justice Tom Chambers talked about a whistle-blower trying to "balance one good versus another," but said individual lawyers can't be allowed to simply decide that on their own.

The court gave no indication when it would decide.

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On the Net:

Schafer's site: http://www.dougschafer.com

Washington State Bar: http://www.wsba.org

State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigated the Anderson case: http://www.cjc.state.wa.us/

State Supreme Court ruling ousting Anderson: http://www.courts.wa.gov