Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Dorothy Baker has a long history of pissing people off. In fact, it's been a point of pride with the woman who holds the hammer over Portland's repeat drunk drivers. But her latest peccadillo could be her undoing.
WW has learned that Baker is once again the subject of a complaint filed with the Judicial Fitness Commission, at least the third time that someone has officially taken issue with her conduct in the past two years. But in this instance, it was not one of her defendants, but Multnomah County's presiding judge, Dale Koch, with a gripe.
The complaint is said to include an allegation that Baker asked an employee, Katye Landis, to file documentation that would either implicitly or explicitly misrepresent the purchase date of some computer equipment, in order to obtain reimbursement under a grant Baker uses to underwrite her program.
Judge Koch refused to comment on the rumor, as did Susan Isaacs, the Judicial Commission's executive director, and Landis, who quit her job with Baker in January. Landis' current boss, lawyer Alex Hamalian, also declined to comment, saying, "All I know is rumor and innuendo."
Baker operates a program for repeat drunk drivers in which they agree to intensive supervision in order to avoid serious jail time. Famous for her foul temper and flamboyant ways, she has received national attention for her success in scaring repeat drunk drivers into sobriety (see "Judge Dread," WW, July 10, 2002).
But legal and courthouse sources who formerly supported her say that over the past nine months she has increasingly been arbitrary and abusive. Fearing
outbursts that could lead to draconian punishment, lawyers are more and more reluctant to put clients
in her program.
One lawyer who still does is Jonah Paisner. "She seems somewhat more volatile," he concedes. "Situations that might annoy or try the patience of another judge lead to an all-out unrestrained explosion." However, he adds, "on other days, Judge Baker is very lucid and incredibly sympathetic."
Baker, who was scheduled to return from an Alaskan vacation on March 25, did not respond to messages left with her staff. Lawyer Peter Jarvis, who represents her in an ethics case filed previously with the judicial commission, refused to comment on any specifics of her complaints. He told WW that any allegations against her should be considered in the context of the service she has provided over the years. "What she does in her court is really quite amazing," says Jarvis. "She's a marvelous person who has success with an extremely difficult population. Our local public ought to be very grateful for it."
Some of Baker's acquaintances believe it is her run-ins with the Judicial Commission that explain her recent behavior. The commission, which enforces the ethics code that applies to the state's 166 circuit-court judges, keeps such matters confidential, but there are currently at least three active complaints.
One complaint is already known: Filed by lawyer Pamela Knowles, the commission's former executive director, it alleges that Baker improperly acted as judge, witness and prosecutor in revoking the probation of Knowles' brother. The revocation was not for drinking, but for his being in the lounge at McCormick & Schmick's, which allegedly caused Baker to throw such a tantrum that one observer thought she was drunk. That complaint is said to be headed toward a negotiated consent decree in which Baker would admit to some wrongdoing and avoid a public hearing.
A second complaint was filed by defendant Marion Warfield last fall and also alleges erratic behavior by Baker. When ordered to get a 36-hour-a-week job, Warfield, a mother of three, is said to have meekly asked, "But what about my kids?," causing the judge to lose her temper and sentence Warfield to 10 days in jail for contempt of court.
Most of Baker's outbursts do not lead to official complaints. On July 24, 2002, she threatened Walt Hafner, a 64-year-old Washington County resident, with a year in jail for failing to move to Multnomah County--even though his terms of probation did not require such a move, and the judge had not ordered it. The incident sparked an Oct. 2, 2002, memo from Reed Ritchey, the deputy director of the Washington County Department of Community Justice, to his counterparts at Multnomah County. "The judge berated our Probation Officer for not making the client move," wrote Ritchey. "Our Probation Officer explained that the court order does not require the client to move... Apparently the judge perceived this as defensiveness which only made her angrier."