All right, what do you say to a career criminal who tells you to suck his dick? On Jan. 23, King County District Court Judge Mark Chow's response was: "I would, if you pulled it out—but you can't find it."
Chow now regrets that, but it seemed a fair enough rejoinder to someone he'd just sent back to jail with a record of more than 30 theft convictions and 10 assaults. Yet later that day, Chow moved from the jail court to the mental health court, and asked a female defendant, "What flavor are you?" Japanese, she replied. "No Chinese? See I'm Chinese," Chow shot back. No Chinese, she said. "That's OK," Chow replied. "My wife's Japanese; you've got some good." When another woman stepped to the bench, he said, "I think I know what flavor you are, so I'm not even going to ask."
The 53-year-old Chow, a judge for 16 years, now stands before the state Commission on Judicial Conduct facing ethics violations for lack of courtroom decorum and undignified comments. He's had a few run-ins before: a 1996 CJC admonishment for improperly involving himself in a relative's divorce case, and a 2002 lawsuit for sexual harassment filed by a mental health court worker (the case was later tossed).
His recent comments in the mental health court now seem to be the CJC's biggest concern. Chow has hired a high-profile attorney, Anne Bremner, and is mounting an unusual defense: His racial comments were intended to therapeutically benefit the defendants.
In a written response to the CJC, signed by Chow and authored by Bremner, he says "therapeutic jurisprudence" allows a judge to interact with mental health defendants through "purposeful engagement." That's a clinical way of saying that friendly racial banter reduces a defendant's anxiety. Bremner says it "therapeutically creates a non-adversarial environment. IT WAS IN THIS CONTEXT [caps hers] that Judge Chow was using such engagement" with the women in mental health court.
Bremner cites studies showing minorities need better mental health care than what's offered them, and says Chow wouldn't have brought up race in a traditional court (Chow no longer presides over mental health court cases). He was pointing out his Asian "mutuality of culture" with the defendants, says Bremner. He'd use a similar approach with other minorities, she suggests. To a black man in mental health court, Chow might say, "Hey dog, you have to take your meds or you could end up back in that cycle of jail again." Says Bremner: "The term 'dog,' if culturally and appropriately communicated, actually is a 'term of endearment.'"