Headline: Former Fircrest judge disciplined
Subhead: Grant L. Anderson disrobed, disbarred after state investigations.
by Craig Coley, Staff Writer
Tacoma attorney Doug Schafer is a crusader. His campaign to establish regulation of people appointed by courts to handle the affairs of incompetent people recently resulted in new rules from the state Supreme Court.
His three-year struggle to expose misconduct by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Grant L. Anderson resulted in Anderson's removal from the bench last July, and in March the state Bar Association suspended Anderson from practicing law for the next two years.
Anderson had been on the seven member Fircrest Planning Commission from June, 1972 through January, 1978.
He was also the Fircrest Municipal Court Judge from December, 1977 through December, 1992.
Instead of being rewarded for exposing the dishonesty of a judge, Schafer will find himself before the state Bar Association, arguing to stave off disciplinary actions.
Though his written words ring loudly, Schafer is soft-spoken. He chooses his words carefully. He does not strike one as a rabble-rouser.
Nonetheless, his crusade to expose Anderson resulted in an accusation by the state Bar Association's Office of Disciplinary Counsel that he violated the confidence of a client. There is no question Schafer revealed things said to him by a client. But Schafer argues his client used him as a tool in the commission of a fraud and he was therefore compelled to make his statements public.
The client was William L. Hamilton, who had been CEO of Fircrest's Western Community Bank for many years, and founded Sound Banking Company in Lakewood.
In August 1992, Hamilton asked Schafer to draw up papers for the incorporation of a company that was to purchase a bowling alley, Pacific Lanes. This alley was owned by the estate of Charles C. Hoffman and its executor was Anderson. Schafer says Hamilton told him he was getting a good deal on the bowling alley and would repay Anderson for it. He allegedly said Anderson needed to unload the alley quickly because he had just been elected to a seat on the Pierce County Superior Court. Hamilton denies making these statements.
Schafer sat on this information for three years -- until the statute of limitations on any of Hamilton's misconduct expired -- then began investigating. He learned that Hamilton made $31,000 worth of payments on Anderson's Cadillac car, for which Anderson become known as the "Cadillac judge."
Schafer brought his case to the Bar Association. It found nothing wrong. Pierce County and state prosecutors declined to press charges. Schafer took the case to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which suspended Anderson for four months in April 1998. Deeming that punishment insufficient, Schafer appealed to the state Legislature, which has authority to remove judges, and legislators appeared willing to do it. However, the state Supreme Court, in its review of the judicial conduct commission's sentence, removed Anderson from the bench.
This public crusade was quite different from Schafer's previous experience as a lawyer. His bread and butter is estate planning and preparing documents for businesses.
"(Clients) come to me, I research the law, I prepare documents and serve their needs," said Schafer, who has been practicing for 21 years. "My practice rarely involves an adversarial relationship with other lawyers or parties."
He said he rarely visits the courthouse and has never observed a trial. In 1995 he became a critic of the state's guardianship system and distributed hand-outs to local lawyers, for which he got "quiet support." He agreed to assist in a guardianship case, which brought him to court in July 1995. It just so happened that the judge he appeared before was Anderson.
"And it was at that time that it hit home to me that the guy sitting up there with the black robe and the nameplate Grant L. Anderson is the guy who Bill Hamilton had mentioned to me not quite three years earlier," Schafer said. "That was maybe the second time I had been in court (in front of a judge) ... I think it was actually two days after that first appearance in front of judge Anderson that I decided to pull the court file that had been mentioned to me almost three years earlier."
If not for this coincidence, what happened over the next four years might never have come to pass.
"It's one of those things that maybe I'll never know. I think I probably would have (followed up) at some point, but I'm not sure," Schafer said. "If I had not begun looking into the file and telephoning folks, there is no question that it would never have come to light."
The same Bar Association that found nothing wrong with Anderson's actions has problems with Schafer's. It filed charges last May; right now both sides are arguing before the state Supreme Court over whether Schafer can pursue more evidence that his client was involved in illegal activity. A Seattle law firm, Badgley-Mullins, will assist Schafer.
"It's a unique and unusual situation and we believe whatever help we can give is important," said Don Mullins, of Badgley-Mullins.
Schafer is unconcerned with what penalty the Bar Association might impose. "I quite strongly am of the feeling that if the highest court of this state declares that it's not proper conduct for a lawyer, I'm not going to be a practicing lawyer. I will do other things," he said. "There are plenty of ways to earn a living where you can feel good about what you do and be constructive without having to be part of what I would then conclude to be a crooked system. Because if the judge's dishonesty has to be covered up by the lawyers who know of it, it's not an honest system."
Schafer has already paid a high price.
"I wish it were not so painful, painful in the personal toll that it takes on my family and on me. Unfortunately, the reason for that is that we do not have effective disciplinary systems in place for judges and lawyers. I fully expected when I reported it that he would be taken out of the courtroom, that he would be at least suspended, within two months, maybe three months," Schafer said. "My wife has just wanted it to be over for years and years... (It has taken) lots of my time, which, for lawyers, time is money, so it's certainly hampered my income."
He gets fewer client referrals, and admits some clients have not been served in a timely manner because this has taken so much of his time. But he does not have any regrets.
"I have continually thought that what I have done was the right and proper, necessary thing to do and I would do it again," he said. "What I have told my sons for years is 'Don't walk in the flock, somebody has to lead it.' I feel that I am (walking that talk). I feel that I am doing what is right. I'm trying to nudge my profession in a direction that I feel it needs to go for the good of society, for the good of the profession. I'm tired of lawyer jokes because, to me, they are too justified. I think lawyers need to regain some morality, some collective morality which, I think, has evaporated."
In some ways he has become the local lawyer of last resort.
"The referrals I tend to get now are the hopeless cases, the cases where the person referring says 'Oh, my god, I wouldn't get near this case but there's a guy in town who apparently will take anything.'"
Schafer, who practices out of his office, Schafer Law Firm, located in Tacoma, has a website filled with information on the case.
He continually updates the website which is located at: http://members.aa.net/~schafer. [Webmaster's note: The website relocated to http://www.DougSchafer.com ] He has posted nearly all of the documents relevant to the case and his comments on them.