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Sunday, April 4, 2004
Portraits: How the system failed
Grant County lawyers and judges with legal troubles of their own

In Grant County, several lawyers and judges have been disciplined professionally or run afoul of the law.

A snapshot of those cases reveals a portrait of a troubled justice system.

Superior Court Judge Evan Sperline was admonished in March for interfering in appeals where his rulings had been reversed. Twice, Sperline protested to the appeals court while a matter was still open. In one letter, he told the court its opinion was "wrong, demeaning and unsupported by law ... logic, common sense, morality or public policy." In another letter, Sperline accused the appeals court of "creating an atmosphere of terrorism" among trial judges.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Jorgensen, accused of falling asleep while on the bench, was censured in 1996. Jorgensen admitted to such misconduct as discussing a criminal case privately with a prosecutor; to appearing biased; and to being incompetent in civil matters. He agreed to take classes in evidence, decision-making and ethics.
Guillermo Romero
Public-defense attorneys Guillermo Romero and Thomas J. Earl represented thousands of indigents facing felony charges. Both are facing recommendations of disbarment. The Washington State Bar Association has accused them of asking court-appointed clients or their relatives to pay for their public defense.

Former public defender John Luke McKean received a six-month suspension last year for improperly entangling his business affairs with those of private law clients.

Doug Earl, longtime administrator of the District Court public-defense contract, was reprimanded in 2002 for an improper one-sided communication with a judge. Earl wrote a letter saying he would not support the judge's re-election unless he ruled a particular way in a pending dispute: "When that decision is finally made, if it is, then you will be back to normal. Until then you are very vulnerable."

Deputy Prosecutor Edward Asa Owens, assigned especially to felony drug cases, was convicted of a drug felony before he became a lawyer. Prosecutor John Knodell says Owens' history suits him for the job: "He's got a really unique background with this problem. He's literally seen this problem from every viewpoint."

Deputy Prosecutor Carole Highland was admonished in 1998 for a courthouse scuffle. The state bar says she twisted a defense attorney's finger, fracturing the bone and separating ligaments. Highland says the bone didn't break.

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