The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct announced last Friday that former Sunnyside prosecutor and Granger Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Hitchcock has been charged with violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.
The commission cannot strip Hitchcock of her judicial authority, but could recommend to the state Supreme Court she be removed as a judge, depending on the outcome of a hearing on the issue.
Hitchcock was arrested last year on July 24, 2013, after being pulled over for allegedly speeding on Interstate 82 between Zillah and Granger. The trooper who stopped her claimed he smelled alcohol in her car and said she appeared intoxicated. A blood alcohol test registered at 0.25, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08.
Hitchcock, who was arrested under her married name of Morehouse, was suspended from her job in Sunnyside after the arrest. She has since been replaced as city prosecutor. She also did not return to her work in Granger, according to Granger Mayor Gary Anderson.
“I haven’t seen her since then,” he said.
Anderson said he learned about the DUI charge against Hitchcock via the media last year. He said shortly after her arrest Hitchcock had a scheduled surgery. However, she did not return for a hearing she was scheduled to preside over in the weeks following the medical procedure.
Anderson said the city of Granger was in the process of finding out if the Sunnyside Municipal Court could handle its cases prior to Hitchcock’s arrest. Sunnyside City Manager Don Day said such an agreement is still under negotiation.
“The DUI (charge) didn’t have any impact on the decision to seek court services elsewhere,” said Anderson.
He said he doesn’t even know if Hitchcock is still contracted as the city’s municipal court judge.
“She never notified us of her status,” said Anderson.
As for the recent charge levied against Hitchcock by the state commission on judicial conduct, the Granger mayor said he doesn’t know what action, if any, will be taken by the city.
Hitchcock is currently scheduled for a hearing on her DUI charge in Yakima County District Court on Wednesday, July 30.
The state commission decided to proceed independently with its disciplinary charges, serving Hitchcock with a statement of allegations last October, which she responded to in December.
In its July 2014 session, the commission made a finding that probable cause exists to charge Hitchcock with violating three rules of conduct for judges. Those include driving while intoxicated, lying to the officer about drinking alcohol the night before her arrest and using her status as a judge “in an apparent attempt to influence” the trooper that pulled her over.
According to Reiko Callner, executive director of the state commission on judicial conduct, Hitchcock has 21 days to file a response to the charges. Failure to file a response is considered an admission that the charges are correct.
After the commission receives a response there will be a 60-day discovery process. There are five possible outcomes, according to Callner. The charges could be dismissed, the commission could recommend one of three sanctions or Hitchcock could stipulate, agreeing to a specific discipline for any or all of the charges.
The commission’s sanctions run the gamut from an admonishment to a censure. The possibility exists with a censure that the state Supreme Court could remove Hitchcock’s judicial authority.
“In general, only the Supreme Court can order a judge removed,” said Callner. “But the only way they can do it is through this commission.”
Hitchcock is being represented by Yakima attorney Greg Scott. He did not return a request for a comment.