A state commission that oversees judges said Friday that it believes a Puyallup judge violated professional conduct rules when he held a purported domestic violence victim in contempt of court and had her jailed for part of a day and overnight.
The 11-member Commission on Judicial Conduct said it found probable cause against Puyallup Municipal Court Judge Stephen R. Shelton and approved a statement of charges against him.
The document alleges that Shelton “contravened well-settled law and infringed deeply upon an individual’s fundamental right to due process and liberty.”
Shelton has 21 days from the time he was served with the statement to respond.
He declined to speak specifically about the September 2009 incident Friday but said in a statement: “I am disappointed by the commission’s decision to file the statement of charges, as I believe the statement does not accurately present all the relevant facts and feel strongly that my actions of that day and interpretation of the law are not subject to the commission’s review.”
Shelton, 62, has 27 years’ experience in the legal profession as a deputy prosecutor, city attorney and judge. He’s presided in Puyallup Municipal Court since 1994.
The position used to be part time but was moved to full time in 2008 because of the growing caseload. Roughly 12,000 cases were filed in Puyallup Municipal Court last year, Shelton said.
When the seat moved to full time, it became an elected position. Shelton was elected to a four-year term in November 2009.
His annual salary is $134,624, the city said.
A Puyallup spokeswoman said Friday that the city had no comment or authority on the matter.
The statement of charges alleges that Shelton violated three parts of the judicial conduct code on Sept. 11, 2009, during an arraignment hearing for a domestic violence case. The defendant was accused of verbally threatening his girlfriend.
Prior to the hearing, the girlfriend recanted to police, saying she’d instigated the fight and then lied about what happened, the statement of charges says.
At the hearing, Shelton reviewed the police reports, including the recant statement, the document says. It says the girlfriend asked if she could address the court and Shelton told her, “No ma’am. You can have a moment in a minute, trust me.”
Then, without further discussion, he summoned the bailiff and told the woman to stand up and put her hands behind her back, the statement of charges says.
Shelton told the woman, now handcuffed, that he was holding her in contempt and imposing a day of jail because she had recanted, the document says.
The woman was taken from the courthouse, booked into the city jail and released the next morning, according to the document.
Shelton didn’t have lawful basis to hold the woman, the statement alleges, and didn’t comply with proper procedures.
Shelton told The News Tribune that he plans to file an answer to the statement of charges and continue working with the commission toward a resolution.
A hearing will be scheduled once an answer is filed, said Reiko Callner, executive director of the judicial commission.
The commission can impose discipline ranging from admonishment to censure and can recommend to the state Supreme Court that a judge be suspended or removed.
Shelton said he has extensive experience dealing with domestic violence cases, including helping create the first DV victim impact panel in the state. “I feel very fortunate to be serving as judge. I have the utmost respect for people who appear in Puyallup court,” he said in an interview. “I’m hoping and trusting that this situation will not provide any disruption to my court, staff or the City of Puyallup.”