Stephen Shelton, Judge Who Ordered Jailing of Domestic-Violence Victim, Agrees to Settlement

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct has settled its case with a Puyallup city judge who locked up a crime victim for lying to police. Municipal Court Judge Stephen R. Shelton had been contesting charges that he violated judicial canons when he ordered the woman to jail overnight after she admitted misleading officers about a domestic-violence case. But the commission today says Shelton has agreed to a stipulated findings of facts and discipline for ordering an arrest that investigators say had "no lawful basis."

In Sept. 2009, a woman--described in commission files as "C.A."--attended the arraignment of her boyfriend, who had been arrested for verbally assaulting her and apparently striking her with a belt. She had already given police a statement saying she wanted to recant her claims and didn't want the boyfriend to go to jail. In a subsequent statement, she said she instigated the fight, and had lied to police about what happened.

At the arraignment, she asked Shelton, 62, Puyallup's presiding judge, if she could speak. "No, ma'am," he said. "You can have a moment in a minute, trust me." He then, according to charges, summoned his bailiff and told C. A. to stand and put her hands behind her back, to be handcuffed.

"I'm going to at this point find you in contempt of court," Shelton said, "because you have written a second statement stating, uh, stating you 'called the police, they came, and I lied and I said he had threatened me, which is untrue. I want to recant my statement. I was frightened and afraid I would be arrested.'

"I'm gonna find you in contempt of court. I'm gonna impose a day in jail. So you'll be released in the morning. [The boyfriend was already in jail] . . . It is the order of the court. Thank you, gentlemen." C.A. was released the next day.

The judicial commission said the jailing was not only unlawful, but Shelton failed to include paperwork such as the filing of an order detailing the contempt and sanction, and did not allow the woman to speak in her defense, as required.

Anne Bremner, the attorney for Shelton--a judge 16 years--said the record shows the judge followed the law and that he acted in a professional manner. But he may have "misapplied his contempt powers," she allows. Details of the settlement and any discipline will be announced at a July commission meeting.

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