Pend Oreille County District Court Judge Chuck Baechler leads a pack of Eastern Washington public-disclosure law violators.
If disclosure violations counted under the state’s “Three Strikes” law, he’d be out.
Baechler is among a half-dozen politicians in this region who are on a state Public Disclosure Commission list to be sued for failure to pay fines. About 50 politicians and lobbyists are on the list statewide.
The judge has racked up almost twice as much in fines as his nearest regional competitor, Chewelah School Board member Juanita Reddinger. She paid her $500 fine Aug. 28 and was removed from the lawsuit list.
But Baechler, who is paid $66,000 a year for part-time work, said he can’t afford his $950 total for three violations.
“I simply do not have the $950 in a lump sum to pay them, but I will make arrangements to pay it,” Baechler said Monday.
The Public Disclosure Commission gave him a 90-day extension to negotiate a reduction, but he missed that deadline, too.
“I simply forgot about it,” Baechler said. “It was on a to-do list probably 15 different times.”
While seeking leniency on his three previous violations, the judge failed again this year to report his finances by April 15 as required.
The disclosure commission “could very well” slap him with yet another fine, Baechler said.
“There, frankly, is no excuse for not sending in a one-page form that has essentially the same information that I have sent in before,” he said, adding that he intended to get it in the mail Monday.
Baechler said the only explanation he could offer for his repeated failures to comply is that he moved twice during the period.
“Everything got put in a file when I moved,” he said.
Baechler was appointed in December 1993 and ran afoul of the disclosure law during his 1994 election campaign to retain his position. He was fined $200 in March 1995 for failing to report his 1994 campaign finances.
Despite that reminder, he missed the following month’s deadline for reporting his personal finances and was fined $250 more in October 1995. Baechler failed again the following year to file the annual report, and was fined $500 more.
Allan Steele, political-finance specialist for the Public Disclosure Commission, said 150 to 200 politicians or lobbyists have to be prodded each year to file their reports, but judges are seldom among the offenders.
“I think judges can be held to a higher standard, but they also are human,” Baechler said.
Some of them are better at running their courts than taking care of their personal affairs, he said.
Baechler is perhaps best known for presiding over the nonjury trial earlier this summer of a Newport-area couple who received nationwide publicity when their dog kennel was raided. He convicted Jeanette and Swen Bergman of most of the animal-cruelty charges against them, but publicly denounced animal-rights activists who attempted to influence his decision.
Baechler said he doesn’t object to the disclosure law as some candidates do, nor does he consider himself a scofflaw.
“It simply slipped my mind,” he said.
Other Eastern Washington politicians the Public Disclosure Commission plans to sue for unpaid fines are: Karen Cecil, East Valley School District, $350; Harvey Moses, Grant County Hospital Commission, $250; John Hooley, Grant County Fire District 4, $250; Marty Padilha, Republic Parks and Recreation District, $250; and Karen Raftis, Loon Lake School District, $100.