June 19, 2004 in City

Eugster seeks judge’s notes

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane attorney Steve Eugster said he will file a petition with the state Supreme Court claiming a Spokane Superior Court judge is not following the state’s public disclosure act.

On Thursday, a member of Eugster’s staff attempted to present the petitions to several of the 12 Superior Court judges notifying them of his intent to serve one of their peers. Presiding judge Linda Tompkins said she was not served with a petition.

“I am aware he was attempting to personally serve judges,” Tompkins said Friday. “Right now I have no knowledge of the case.”

Tompkins said judges have “judicial immunity” from decisions that they make. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be questioned or petitioned.

“This is a matter, like any other, that would be reviewed on its individual merits,” Tompkins said.

In his petition, Eugster claims Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor and Superior Court administrator Dave Hardy have denied his request to inspect and copy O’Connor’s notes stemming from a case in which the judge ordered Eugster to pay two rival attorneys $340 and $500 respectively.

Eugster contends the Spokane County Superior Court is a state agency that must follow the rules laid out by the state’s public disclosure act.

“What we have here is a court that is operating on the q.t.,” Eugster said from Seattle on Friday. “This is a dysfunctional court from many points of view.”

O’Connor was in Seattle and could not be reached for comment.

Eugster’s latest effort stems from a case he handled earlier this year in which he represented a man who appealed several small claims judgments previously entered against him. The amounts of those small claims judgments totaled approximately $4,000, court papers say.

Eugster appealed the case before the Superior Court, and O’Connor upheld the lower court judgments against Eugster’s client. Furthermore she ordered Eugster to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees and costs, according to Eugster’s petition.

“Judge O’Connor stated that the sanctions were being imposed on the basis of the court’s inherent authority,” Eugster writes in his petition. According to Eugster, O’Connor said she would not submit a written order regarding her decision to impose sanctions.

Writes Eugster: “Judge O’Connor said something to the effect that in such circumstances she liked to have the attorneys work the matter (her decision imposing sanctions) out amongst themselves.”

Eugster said O’Connor gave him the impression that she regularly imposed sanctions that were not part of the court’s written record. As a result, Eugster now wants access to O’Connor’s notes dating to Jan. 1, 2001, in which she ordered sanctions or fees against any attorney based upon the “court’s inherent authority.”

His first request to court administrator Dave Hardy was denied, Eugster said.

Though Hardy could not be reached for comment, in his written denial he says: “The court has recently held that the common law right to access court records does not apply to judges’ notes.”

Eugster’s latest challenge of a judge is just another in a year-long saga in which he first sought to challenge Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno for her seat in the September 2004 primary election. He then changed his mind and decided to run against Judge Tari Eitzen.

But just weeks later, Eugster filed paperwork announcing his decision to run against Judge Sam Cozza. All 12 Superior Court judges are up for re-election.

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