A Benton County judge was arrested late Tuesday for allegedly driving drunk when he crashed his car not far from his Badger Canyon home.
Fourteen hours later, Judge Terry M. Tanner appeared in Benton County District Court.
But instead of taking his usual spot on the bench, Tanner was dressed in jail clothes and sat at the defense table with attorney Scott Johnson.
The hearing was held inside the Benton County jail and televised in a public room in the jail’s lobby.
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The former Richland city councilman pleaded innocent to one gross misdemeanor charge of DUI.
Court documents show that emergency dispatchers got a call at 11:18 p.m. about a Cadillac ATS crashed at Clodfelter Road and Cantera Street.
The caller said the driver was sleeping behind the wheel.
When Benton County sheriff’s deputies arrived, Tanner was found about 300 feet away from the sedan, documents said.
“Witnesses watched him walk from the vehicle after they called to report finding the collision,” Deputy Randy Loyd wrote in a probable cause statement attached to the criminal citation.
Tanner, 55, allegedly admitted to driving the Cadillac after drinking at Buffalo Wild Wings in Kennewick. He had “red, bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech,” the deputy wrote.
It does not say in the brief statement whether Tanner agreed to a breathalyzer test.
However, shortly after the arrest, Superior Court Judge Jackie Shea Brown granted a search warrant to draw Tanner’s blood. State lab officials will run tests to determine Tanner’s blood-alcohol level at the time.
Tanner was booked into the jail at 2:13 a.m.
Sheriff’s officials had no additional details on the crash.
Wednesday afternoon, former colleague Judge Joe Burrowes presided over Tanner’s first appearance since the other four District Court judges recused themselves from the case.
Burrowes, with Benton-Franklin Superior Court, gave Tanner and his lawyer the opportunity to disqualify Burrowes from the proceedings if they believed he couldn’t be fair and impartial.
Johnson said they had no concerns with Burrowes. A judge from outside the judicial district will be brought in for all future hearings.
Witnesses watched him walk from the vehicle after they called to report finding the collision.
Deputy Randy Loyd, Benton County
“I am not treating Mr. Tanner any different than any other first appearance and DUI,” Burrowes said during the hearing.
Johnson also said during the brief hearing that Tanner had received “no preferential treatment” during his arrest to his appearance in court.
Tanner was released on his personal recognizance, and walked out of the corrections facility just after 1:30 p.m.
The standard conditions of his release include staying in contact with his lawyer and “maintaining law-abiding behavior” while his case is pending. He also cannot consume or possess alcohol during that time.
Tanner has no criminal history. A DUI conviction can bring a sentence of up to one year in jail, followed by probation. First-time offenders often face just a few days in jail.
The longtime city attorney, who worked over the years for Richland, Pasco, West Richland, Connell and Benton County, served on the Richland City Council from 1999 until 2002.
He resigned with 3 1/2 years left in his term following questions about a potential conflict of interest when he and another attorney who contracted with the city were buying a local law practice.
He continued to practice law in the Tri-Cities until he was appointed to the judicial seat in 2009 after the retirement of Judge Eugene F. Pratt.
Tanner is up for re-election for his judicial position this year, with candidate filing in May.
District Court judges make $161,092 a year. His salary is paid by Benton County taxpayers.
He currently handles all Kennewick cases involving misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor criminal charges, along with traffic, non-traffic and parking infractions and small claims matters.
That list includes DUI arrests made by Kennewick officers.
It was not known Wednesday if Tanner will be back on the bench this week or if criminal dockets will be shuffled so for now he doesn’t sit in judgment of defendants with similar charges.
Prior to his arrest, he had been scheduled to review paperwork in his chambers Thursday morning, according to District Court Administrator Jacki Lahtinen
District Court judges by law are allowed to take 30 pro tem days, or vacation days. That means a pro tem judge is called in to fill their seat as needed.
The judges also reportedly have unlimited sick time.
It is way too early to really know what is going to happen with anything.
Judge Dan Kathren, District Court
“It is way too early to really know what is going to happen with anything,” Judge Dan Kathren, District Court’s presiding judge, told the Herald. “There is some precedent (across the state), but at this time I am not sure. It’s definitely new for us.”
Kathren added that like all other defendants, Tanner is innocent until proven guilty, and he is looking forward to getting more facts.
In February 2003, Washington state Supreme Court Justice Bobbe E. Bridge was arrested for DUI and hit-and-run of a parked vehicle.
Reiko Callner, executive director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, said that kind of was a turning point in society for DUIs and judges.
It used to be that judges convicted of driving while intoxicated would be admonished by the commission. That is the lowest form of a sanction.
But with Bridge’s arrest, the recommended sanction was upped to a reprimand.
The commission is an independent agency that works to protect the integrity of the judicial process and promote public confidence in the courts by enforcing ethics rules for judges.
People who think a judge has acted unethically can file a complaint with the commission, which then conducts a confidential investigation and brings the results before commission members for potential action.
A judge also can self-report.
The commission also is empowered to launch its own complaint and start an investigation if members are aware of an alleged criminal law violation by a sitting judicial officer, Callner told the Herald.
The Washington Code of Judicial Conduct states all judges must “comply with the law.” A criminal charge would be a violation of their canons.
Callner said the accused judge, like all defendants, have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves. So staff usually tracks the criminal process and awaits an outcome of the judge’s case before moving forward with their own investigation.
The commission considers the judge’s record and standard of personal behavior and weighs that against their actions in the criminal offense.
Like in the case of Justice Bridge, judges can stipulate to a resolution of their judicial conduct investigation. That agreed order must be accepted by commissioners during their public meetings, which are held five times a year.