Lawyer not sorry he blabbed
WHISTLEBLOWER: Supreme Court looks at discipline for attorney who told client's secrets to expose judge
Sarah Duran; The News Tribune
Tacoma lawyer Doug Schafer told the Washington State Supreme Court on Tuesday that he was morally and legally right when he publicly discussed a client's secrets to expose misconduct by a Pierce County judge.
"I feel no contrition," Schafer said.
"I don't feel what I did was wrong in the slightest."
The court is deciding whether to suspend Schafer's law license for one year, as recommended by the Washington State Bar Association's disciplinary board.
Schafer uncovered misconduct by former Pierce County Superior Court Judge Grant Anderson that led to the judge's ouster in 1999.
Schafer's whistleblowing investigation included information given to him by a client, banker William Hamilton.
Hamilton complained to the bar, which agreed last year that Schafer violated ethics rules and recommended suspension.
The bar said Schafer didn't need to reveal Hamilton's statements to expose Anderson, and he especially didn't need to give the statements to state and federal prosecutors, the FBI, the IRS and the news media.
Schafer acknowledged much of the information he found against Anderson was available in public records. He said, however, revealing Hamilton's statements was necessary to expose the misconduct.
During Tuesday's hearing, the state's highest court debated with Schafer and bar association attorney Christine Gray the ethics of breaking client confidentiality in order to expose judicial misconduct.
Justice Barbara Madsen asked Gray whether reprimanding Schafer, who exposed Anderson, would undermine the public's confidence in the judicial system.
Gray answered that failing to discipline Schafer for disclosing his client's information would hurt the public's confidence more.
The public expects lawyers to respect confidentially "without worrying about it being on the front page of the newspaper," Gray said.
Some of the questions asked of Schafer focused on his timing. Schafer filed his complaints with the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the bar association in the spring of 1996. About 21/2 months later, he sent the information to prosecutors, federal officials and the media.
Madsen asked Schafer why he went to the media without giving the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the bar association time to complete its investigation. Schafer responded that Anderson's misconduct needed to be exposed quickly because he was up for election that year.
"I'm not that confident that every agency is going to do its job," he added.
Schafer's interest in Anderson started in 1992 with a conversation Schafer had with Hamilton, in which Hamilton told Schafer the judge was "milking" the estate of a client.
Schafer didn't investigate further until 1995, when he had a case in Anderson's courtroom.
The commission's investigation eventually concluded that Anderson sold Hamilton a bowling alley belonging to the estate of a client of Anderson's when he was an attorney.
The association said Hamilton got the alley at a bargain price after he made $31,000 in payments on Anderson's Cadillac.
In 1999, the state Supreme Court removed Anderson from the bench, making him the first Superior Court judge in state history removed for ethics violations.
Meanwhile, the state bar association suspended Anderson's law license for two years. The suspension period ended last Saturday and he can now apply for reinstatement, an association spokeswoman confirmed.
The court's decision is expected later this year or early next year.
- - -
* Reach staff writer Sarah Duran at 253-597-8550 or email@example.com.
- - -
SIDEBAR: On the Web:
* Washington State Supreme Court: www.courts.wa.gov
* Doug Schafer's Web site on the case: www.dougschafer.com
* Washington State Bar Association: www.wsba.org
© The News Tribune