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He’s accused of abusing his authority. This Tri-Cities judge says prove it

Benton-Franklin Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner abused his judicial authority when he got involved with a guardianship case from which he’d been disqualified, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct has found.
Benton-Franklin Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner abused his judicial authority when he got involved with a guardianship case from which he’d been disqualified, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct has found. Tri-City Herald

The Washington state Commission on Judicial Conduct has set a date four months out to hear testimony in its case against Judge Bruce Spanner for allegedly abusing his judicial authority.

The public hearing will be in the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick, the same courthouse where Spanner often presides over cases for Benton-Franklin Superior Court.

The commission decided in April that Spanner violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, and it issued a statement of charges.

Spanner — who has been on the bench since January 2009 — disputes the allegations, saying he had a duty to intervene in a case because of “blatant attorney misconduct.” He unsealed a settlement in a medical malpractice case in March 2018.

Zink in court
Judge Bruce Spanner, pictured here in 2016, will get to present evidence and have his lawyer call witnesses during a hearing into allegations he abused his judicial authority. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

This hearing, scheduled for Oct. 14, is part of the process as commission members decide whether to discipline the judge or dismiss their charges.

Board can discipline or dismiss

Discipline options include admonishment, reprimand, censure, censure with a recommendation to the Washington Supreme Court for suspension or removal, or any other sanction the board is authorized to impose.

The fact-finding hearing start that Monday at 9 a.m. and will go as long as needed, with at least six commission members required to be present for all testimony.

The one Tri-Cities representative on the board, Jean Ryckman, is not on the list of expected participants.

Judge Rich Melnick will preside over the hearing. Melnick is on the Washington state Court of Appeals, Division II, based in Tacoma, and is a judicial member of the commission.

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The Washington state Commission on Judicial Conduct will hold a fact-finding hearing Oct. 14 at the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick. File Tri-City Herald

The board’s disciplinary counsel will present their case against Spanner, and may call him as a witness.

Spanner’s lawyer also will have the opportunity to present evidence and produce their own witnesses.

A decision will be issued within three months after the hearing concludes.

Violated judicial conduct code

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.

After receiving a complaint, the commission conducts a confidential investigation and brings the results before board members for potential action.

The board met April 26 and approved the statement of charges against Spanner for violating two canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Spanner’s actions allegedly undermined the basic principles of the conduct code involving: compliance with the law; promoting confidence in the judiciary; avoiding abuse of a judge’s prestige; impartiality and bias; ensuring the right to be heard; and ex parte communications.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.
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