United States

Benton County judge censured, agrees to total sobriety in remainder of term after DUIs

(The Center Square) — The Washington State Supreme Court has censured and suspended a Benton County District Court judge without pay for 30 days after he was arrested on a drunk driving charge early this year.

Judge Terry M. Tanner began his suspension Monday following an order issued last week by Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez.

It marks the second time that the 61-year-old Tanner has been arrested for DUI and faced a disciplinary recommendation by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct. Tanner was first convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol following a vehicle wreck in 2018. Afterward, he was reprimanded by the Supreme Court and complied with requirements of his criminal case, which did not include intensive alcohol treatment.

Tanner’s second DUI arrest came on Jan. 2 of this year when the judge struck and high-centered his vehicle on a concrete block in Richland. A witness who helped Tanner out of the car said he appeared highly intoxicated and admitted to drinking at a nearby restaurant-bar, according to a commission investigation.

But when police arrived, Tanner initially denied owning or driving the car. He declined both field sobriety tests and a portable breath test. At the police station, separate breath tests listed his blood-alcohol content at 0.22 and 0.23 — nearly three times higher than Washington’s legal limit of 0.08. Tanner spent a night in jail and his criminal case was transferred to Yakima County District Court.

On Jan. 4, Tanner called the Judicial Conduct Commission office to self-report his DUI arrest and advised that he was immediately entering intensive treatment for alcoholism. On Feb. 28, he agreed to a deferred prosecution that requires him to complete a two-year treatment plan and three years of probation monitoring. During the five-year period, he must abstain from alcohol, submit to periodic urinalysis or breath tests, provide monthly progress reports, and commit no further violations.

The JCC began its independent investigation this spring and Tanner agreed in September to an order of censure and recommendation of suspension, stating that he “now fully recognizes that he suffers from alcohol dependency and readily adopts all requirements for treatment and ongoing sobriety.”

In its findings, the commission noted that the public “rightfully expects that judges will comply with the criminal laws they enforce upon others,” that Tanner had previously been sanctioned for the same offense, and that he was not initially truthful with police.

But the commission also noted Tanner did not attempt to exploit his judicial office at any point, that he is considered to be “a dedicated, competent, hard-working judge who is well-liked by those he works with,” and the investigation showed no indication that alcoholism affected his work as a judge.

“Whether to require his removal from the bench or to afford him a path to redemption under these circumstances is a complex decision,” wrote J. Reiko Callner, the commission’s executive director.

The commission makes recommendations to the Supreme Court, which is responsible for imposing disciplinary measures for judicial conduct violations. The measures can include admonishments, reprimands, censures, suspensions or removal from the bench.

Along with complying with terms of his deferred prosecution, Tanner must now recuse himself from handling any DUI case if requested by anyone involved in the matter, and to resign from the bench if he consumes “any quantity of alcohol in any location” during the remainder of his current term in office. Over the next three years, he is also expected make at least three approved public presentations regarding his misconduct.

Tanner first took the bench in 2009 and was elected to his fourth four-year term in 2022. District court judges in Washington receive an annual salary of $206,988 and preside over lesser civil and non-felony criminal matters, including drunk driving cases.

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