[The following editorial by Matt Winters was published on May 24, 2000, in the Chinook Observer, a weekly newspaper published in Long Beach, Washington, serving the community that also is served by Ocean Beach Hospital. That public hospital's administrator testified in March 1999 to the Washington legislature that it was "robbed of $1.5 million" by lawyer Grant L. Anderson's fraudulent handling of the Charles Hoffman Estate. The same editorial was published May 23, 2000, under the headline, "See no evil. How much dishonesty is necessary to disbar a lawyer?" in The Daily Astorian (www.dailyastorian.com), an affiliated newspaper published in Astoria, Oregon.]
Too little, too late
Behavior inappropriate for a judge
ought to also disqualify him from being a lawyer
The Washington State Supreme Court earlier this month affirmed just a two-year suspension of former Superior Court Judge Grant Anderson’s license to practice law, when it ought to have disbarred him altogether. It’s difficult to view the Supreme Court’s decision upholding an earlier Washington State Bar Association Disciplinary Board order as anything but the good-old-boy network of lawyers pulling together to form a scab over a rotting sore on their reputation.
Anderson was kicked off the judicial bench in Pierce County last July after the Supreme Court determined he and others plundered assets of the estate of Surfside Inn owner Charles Hoffman, his deceased client, that mostly were supposed to go to Ocean Beach Hospital in Ilwaco. For one thing, Anderson accepted payments on a new Cadillac from a friend to whom he sold the estate’s Tacoma bowling alley at a reduced price, according to the Supreme Court. The court said Anderson’s actions “clearly exhibit a pattern of dishonest behavior unbecoming a judge” and that his “misconduct has eroded the integrity and respect of the judiciary to such a degree that he must be relieved of office.” The court’s unanimous decision included much additional strong language concerning Anderson’s actions and lack of remorse. Anderson asked justices to reconsider, they declined, and he is off the bench.
On the surface, this looks like the legal system functioning well to purge itself of someone with suspect ethics. Look a little further, though, and the picture of Washington’s legal system is far less flattering. The state Judicial Conduct Commission, examining the same behavior in January 1998, recommended only a four-month suspension without pay for Anderson, after which he would resume being a judge. In disgust, the state Senate led by Sid Snyder took the rare step of beginning the equivalent of impeachment proceedings against Anderson. This process was well along when the Supreme Court acted on the matter, averting what presumably would have been a very public and humiliating intervention by the legislative branch in judicial affairs.
Then came the state bar association’s involvement. Its disciplinary committee has pursued an active investigation of Tacoma lawyer Doug Schafer who brought Anderson’s misconduct to light, in part by allegedly revealing the confidences of a client. Anderson doubtless would still be on the bench but for Schafer’s courageous, if unorthodox, crusade. The bar association ought to holding a banquet for Schafer, not making his life uncomfortable.
Now comes the disciplinary committee’s action regarding the former judge. Someone who the Supreme Court regards as unfit to serve as a judge will be able to resume being a lawyer in two years, possibly in the meantime working as a highly paid arbitrator, a quasi-judicial role for which he does not need Supreme Court consent.
It is interesting to consider how and why the standards for practicing law apparently are so less stringent than the standards for being a judge, especially as in this case when the actions which booted Anderson from the bench actually related largely to his activities as an estate lawyer. Is this really the sort of person the Supreme Court or bar association wants practicing law two short years from now?
Letting bygones be bygones is all well and good on the playground, but the citizens of Washington deserve something more forceful when it comes to “a pattern of dishonest behavior” like Anderson’s.