Pend Oreille County District Court Judge Chuck Baechler faces disciplinary action by the Washington State Bar Association.
An association investigation cites three previously undisclosed grievances against Baechler’s performance as a private attorney, and recommends he be reprimanded at minimum.
“Aggravating factors” warrant more severe discipline than might ordinarily be meted out, bar disciplinary counsel Jonathan Burke said in documents that were made public Thursday.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment as much as I may like to,” Baechler said.
Burke’s investigation concluded that Baechler “knowingly” failed to represent two different clients and deceived them by claiming to have done work he didn’t do.
The two cases are bolstered by an earlier, similar grievance that the bar association dropped in 1994 in exchange for Baechler’s promise of future cooperation.
Baechler was accused then - as in one of the new grievances - of failing to represent a client, failing to turn over files to the client’s new attorney and failure to appear for a deposition.
The old case now will be used as supporting evidence in one of the new cases, in which Baechler is again accused of failing to cooperate with the bar association.
Burke said one of Baechler’s clients, Jeffrey Bailey, had to reconstruct documents for a new lawyer after Baechler failed to perform. Baechler refused to refund Bailey’s $250 payment even though there is no evidence he did any work, Burke stated.
Baechler promised on July 31 last year to turn over Bailey’s file to the bar association “in a couple of days,” but he never did, Burke said in a Dec. 4 report.
He said Baechler called 30 minutes before a scheduled deposition on Nov. 12 and said he couldn’t come because “he was busy with his children that weekend,” Burke wrote.
In the other grievance against Baechler, he is accused of failing to represent Pend Oreille County resident Luana Burnett in a divorce case and not responding to her request that he refund her $500 payment. Baechler admitted to the bar that one action he did take in Burnett’s case was without her permission.
Burnett wanted the case to be handled in Pend Oreille County, but Baechler could have caused the case to go to Lincoln County Superior Court by accepting legal documents from that court. Baechler’s claim not to know that Burnett’s husband was trying to have the divorce handled in Lincoln County was not credible, Burke concluded.
The bar grievances are similar to a 1997 case in which Baechler failed to file a lawsuit for a Spokane couple until it was too late. Michael and Nancy Kuehn said Baechler repeatedly gave them false assurances the lawsuit had been filed.
The Kuehns won a $43,654 default judgment against Baechler and are in the process of garnisheeing his $66,000-a-year salary. A lump-sum settlement is being negotiated.
In addition to complaints by clients, Baechler has a long history of driving infractions and credit problems.