Trouble in Tacoma

Is this any way to run a campaign? Seek a court seat from which you’ve been suspended and can’t retake if and when reelected? That, however, is Rudy Tollefson’s political master plan.

The Pierce County (Where else? Of 14 state public disciplinary actions taken the last two years against judges in the state’s 39 counties, more than half—eight—were from Pierce County) Superior Court judge was suspended for five months in August on several counts of judicial misconduct, including screaming at and chasing a court reporter down the hallowed halls of justice.

If Tollefson, a jurist since 1979, is tossed back into office, he can’t remount the bench again until late January 2001. Furthermore, the state Supreme Court must still review and approve the suspension—and could add more time, as it did in the case of one of Tollefson’s former cohorts, Grant Anderson, the “Cadillac judge.” Anderson was suspended a mere four months by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct after admitting he took kickbacks—payments on a new Cadillac. An angry high court upped that suspension to outright banishment from the bench.

Tollefson tried but was unable to delay a disciplinary hearing until after next week’s primary. At the last minute on August 22, he agreed to accept the five-month ban without pay, effective immediately. He admitted to using abusive language with court employees, interfering in a child custody case, and handing out a sentence without informing the prosecutor or defense attorney. In one instance, witnessed by dozens of courthouse visitors and security cameras, he became upset at a court reporter and chased her through hallways and into an active courtroom, calling her “bitch.”

He has since apologized and is waging a campaign on, well, most of his 21-year record. His three opponents in the primary—attorneys Katherine Stolz, James Cushing, and Jack McNeish— all promise to restore a more balanced judicial temperament in Tacoma.

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