On June 14, 2023, the Spokesman-Review reported that during an open forum at the Spokane City Council Meeting in Washington, Mr. Jim McDevitt, a former US attorney for Eastern Washington made a statement saying that Council President Breean Beggs was potentially in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, given his appointment as Spokane City Superior Court Judge last May.
According to the report, this assertion carries significant weight, considering its source as a former U.S. attorney. McDevitt’s extensive experience spans multiple administrations, both Democrat and Republican. Notably, he has been entrusted with state positions by Democrat Governors Christine Gregoire and Jay Inslee, a testament to his nonpartisan approach. McDevitt emphasized his unwavering commitment to upholding justice and practicing law without succumbing to political pressures or biases, as well as his belief that a politically untainted justice system is crucial to maintaining public trust.
Unsurprisingly, Breean Beggs holds a contrasting perspective regarding the specifics. When asked for his viewpoint via email, Beggs stated that he is adhering to the principles outlined in the judicial ethics rules. Since submitting his application on April 17th, he asserts that he has refrained from endorsing or financially supporting any political candidates. Additionally, Beggs maintains that he has not engaged in any prohibited actions beyond the legitimate responsibilities and obligations associated with his current elected position.
During his testimony, McDevitt asserted that the Code of Judicial Conduct becomes applicable once an individual assumes the status of a judicial candidate. According to the code, a person officially becomes a judicial candidate upon making a declaration or filing as a candidate with the relevant election or appointment authority. In Beggs’ case, it seems that the pivotal date is his application submitted on April 17. McDevitt emphasized that the limitations imposed on a judicial candidate encompass various aspects, including a prohibition on publicly endorsing candidates for nonjudicial positions, such as council president or mayor. This prohibition extends to refraining from making oppositional or disparaging remarks about the current mayor.
As McDevitt acknowledged in his statement during an open forum, there exists a gray area concerning the restriction on judicial candidates making statements that are linked to issues likely to be presented before the court. This includes making pledges, promises, or commitments that could undermine the impartial execution of judicial duties. McDevitt believes that there are at least two ordinances that were recently passed as emergencies and might be susceptible to legal challenges. Consequently, he argues that Beggs should have abstained from participating in the council vote to maintain the perception of fairness, considering his prospective role as a judge.
Mr. McDevitt stated, “If I were a judicial candidate, I would resign or at least recuse myself on any issue that could end up in court.” He continues, “The city charter says an emergency ordinance is appropriate when ‘necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety’ and the council president leaving at the end of the month does not constitute an emergency… This is a misuse and abuse of the charter as the City Council continues to chip away at the strong-mayor form of government voted in by the people.”
When asked about the emergency clause, Beggs explained that according to the charter, the council possesses the flexibility to employ emergency ordinances whenever a specific area of the government requires prompt implementation of an ordinance, regardless of public safety considerations, as long as there are enough votes to override a potential mayoral veto. In simpler terms, as long as there are five votes in favor, any measure can be approved as an emergency, bypassing the usual readings. There is no requirement to justify the need for maintaining public peace, a statement vague enough to provide ample room for rationalizing a wide range of actions.
McDevitt expressed his view, stating, “They are simply utilizing it for convenience. The charter is inadequately drafted, and if I had the opportunity, I would completely rewrite the entire charter.”
Unless substantial evidence is presented regarding political activities or statements made by Beggs subsequent to April 17, it appears unlikely that a complaint alleging misconduct would be considered by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Source: The Spokesman-Review