A judge who suggested a swindler could afford to pay more in restitution if he stopped renting a home on 40 acres, gave up cable and quit tithing will have to reconsider his ruling, an appeals court decided.
The Division III Court of Appeals did not rule Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Michael Price abused his discretion. But the three judges agreed that the case should return to Price for reconsideration.
The ruling follows a guilty plea in 2008 by Theodore N. Saroff, who formerly operated Spokane Auto Sales at 3011 E. Sprague Ave.
Saroff admitted that he used titles to cars he didn’t own to defraud two companies that provided financing to his auto sales business. As part of the plea, Saroff agreed to pay restitution of $269,393 in $50 monthly increments.
Spokane County prosecutors asked Price to reconsider the monthly payments, pointing out that with interest, the restitution had grown to $356,408, an amount that would take 443 years to pay off at $50 a month.
Price sided with the prosecutors’ arguments and took issue with the $1,650 a month Saroff was paying in rent to live in a home on 40 acres. The residence is owned by Saroff’s son after Saroff lost the property through bankruptcy.
“Counsel, I am here to tell you that $1,650 a month for rent in Spokane, Washington, is a huge sum of money,” Price said, according to court documents. “How do I know that? I know that because I am a landlord.
“I have an apartment available … for $540 a month that has been vacant for four months. There is $1,100 available right there in terms of reasonable rent.”
Price also said it was unnecessary for Saroff to pay for cable and a cellphone, and noted that “there is not room for” tithing in Saroff’s budget.
The judge didn’t give prosecutors their full request of bumping the $50 monthly payments to $1,500 but ruled that Saroff should be able to pay $1,250 a month.
Saroff and his attorney, Rob Cossey, appealed that decision, arguing that Price “improperly injected personal knowledge into the proceedings by becoming a witness” and abused his discretion by increasing the amount of monthly payments to $1,250.
Appeals Court Judge Kevin Korsmo wrote that “we do not accept (Saroff’s) arguments,” but said the “matter should be remanded for further explanation” by Price.
Cossey previously argued that forcing Saroff to find cheaper rent would cause him to lose income from boarding dogs.
“I was surprised somewhat by (Price’s) original ruling,” Cossey said Tuesday. “I trust that Judge Price will do what is right and fair. He always does.”