1 made a sexual innuendo, the other got a DUI. These Tri-City judges have been sanctioned

Deputy applies for warrant in Benton County judge’s DUI case

A Benton County Sheriff's deputy applies for a search warrant to get Judge Terry Tanner's blood after arresting him for DUI.
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A Benton County Sheriff's deputy applies for a search warrant to get Judge Terry Tanner's blood after arresting him for DUI.

Two Tri-City judges have been sanctioned by a state commission for inappropriate or illegal actions.

Judge Dan Kathren, the presiding judge for Benton County District Court, was admonished by the Commission on Judicial Conduct for making a sexual innuendo to a female court clerk who was asking about a case.

And District Court Judge Terry Tanner was reprimanded for his arrest last March for driving under the influence.

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Stipulations for both of the Kennewick-based judges were entered Friday when the commission met in Seattle.

Kathren has been on the bench since 2011. An admonishment is the least severe disciplinary action, and requires him in the next year to participate in an hour of ethics training focusing on appropriate courtroom demeanor.

He already voluntarily watched an online course addressing sexual harassment and discrimination after his inappropriate comment to the subordinate employee was reported to the county’s human resources department.

“I take full responsibility for my actions and sincerely apologize to everyone hurt by them,” Kathren told the Tri-City Herald on Monday. “Judges are human and sometimes make mistakes. I believe I have learned from this mistake and am a better judge for it.”

“I hope that I can be judged more on my record as a jurist than by a brief moment of immature foolishness,” he added.

The reprimand against Tanner, who’s been a judge since 2009, is an intermediate level of disciplinary action.

While following the terms of probation for his guilty plea to the gross misdemeanor, he also must make at least five public appearances within three years to speak about his misconduct.

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Tanner told the Herald that he likely will make a presentation to the District and Municipal Court Judges’ Association, along with local community organizations like Rotary or Kiwanis clubs and maybe a school. The presentation and venue must be approved by the commission.

“I’m kind of looking forward to it, and I’m kind of anxious about it too,” Tanner said. “That’s not what you usually hear from a judge, but yeah, I’m accepting responsibility and that’s part of it.”

Dan Kathren.JPG
Judge Dan Kathren File Tri-City Herald

Both Kathren and Tanner were re-elected in November to another four-year term. Kathren ran unopposed, while Tanner was challenged by lawyer Talesha “Tali” Sams.

District Court judges are paid $164,300 a year by Benton County taxpayers.

The judicial commission is an independent agency that works to protect the integrity of the judicial process and to 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. A judge also can self-report.

In Kathren’s case, the commission received a complaint in March 2018. A confidential preliminary investigation led to disciplinary proceedings, with Kathren being formally served documents about the allegation in late May.

According to commission documents, Kathren had just finished a traffic mitigation calendar on Feb. 16 when the clerk approached the judge in chambers with a question about the resolution of a case.

“I have a question for you,” she said.

Before the clerk could ask her question, Kathren responded with, “Nine inches.”

Kathren then acknowledged that his comment was inappropriate when the clerk expressed shock. She told two co-workers and was contacted by court administrators the following week and then by the county human resource department.

When Kathren was confronted by an HR manager, he acknowledged the impropriety of his comment, offered to formally apologize to the clerk and agreed to take the online training course on sexual harassment.

In his response to the state commission, Kathren said that “he intended to make a joke to a person he had known for several years and whom he considered a friend. He wrote that nonetheless he realizes the comment was in bad taste and ‘should not have been made regardless of (the clerk’s) subjective opinion of its offensiveness.’ “

The commission’s investigation found no indication that Kathren intentionally exploited his position. While the comment was the result of being overly casual around staff, it was disruptive to the workplace and upsetting to the clerk.

“Judges are held to a high standard of conduct,” the commission stated. “Comments of a sexual nature, such as the comment at issue here, are inappropriate in any professional setting, and particularly so when the speaker holds such a disproportionately high position of power over the person subjected to the comments.”

The commission further said it expects Kathren to “fully absorb the gravity of the situation” and put to use the skills he gets from sexual harassment training.

In Tanner’s case, his March 6 DUI arrest was reported within two days to the commission, first by his lawyer and then by Tanner himself.

Terry Tanner.JPG
Judge Terry Tanner File Tri-City Herald

Tanner had been drinking beer while watching a basketball game at a Kennewick restaurant before he got behind the wheel of his sedan and tried to drive home. He crashed into a decorative rock wall in Badger Canyon.

He made no mention of his judicial status, though Benton County sheriff’s deputies knew who Tanner was, according to the commission report.

Tanner pleaded guilty one month later in Yakima County District Court, where the case was moved to prevent any conflict within his own court. His one-day county jail sentence was converted to 15 days on electronic home monitoring.

Tanner told the Herald he completed the home monitoring in the second half of May, and was allowed to work during that time. He also started an alcohol treatment program the week after his arrest, going weekly for the first six months followed by monthly for the next six months.

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The state commission noted that it was an isolated incident for Tanner in his private life, he had no prior criminal or judicial misconduct history and is taking steps to avoid repeating the behavior.

The judge said he thought it was a fair sanction imposed by the commission and is right in line with what should have happened.

“I was quick to make sure that we got in there and were accountable for it right away, and put it behind me as quickly as possible with fair resolutions all around and did not drag things out,” Tanner said. “I was happy with the (November) election results. That was kind of a reaffirmation about the community’s thoughts about me.”

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer