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July 20th, 2005 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

BENCH WARMER

Local judge Sid Galton appears headed toward early retirement.

     
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Multnomah County Circuit Judge Sid Galton may have set down his gavel.
Sid Galton, the Multnomah County jurist who decorated his courtroom with a blue lava lamp and who asked lawyers to call him "Judge Perky," appears to be headed off the bench due to severe depression.

Recent court filings, including normally confidential medical records, give new insight into the plight of one of Portland's most flamboyant and controversial circuit judges ("Sid Vicious," WW, Jan. 19, 2005).

While Galton's supporters praise him as funny, well-meaning and good with jurors, his critics call him vindictive and volatile-and a case study in how difficult it is to remove judges who don't have the right temperament for the job.

Last year, the state Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability filed a complaint against Galton accusing him of swearing in court and bullying a rookie female prosecutor. The judge initially admitted to the complaint and signed an agreement that would have led merely to a reprimand and some anger-management counseling. But Galton then withdrew from the agreement and threw the legal equivalent of a "Hail Mary" pass-arguing to the state Supreme Court that the Fitness Commission, set up to oversee judges, lacked legal authority.

Last December, the Supremes rejected his argument and Galton promptly went out on leave, collecting his $95,800 annual salary while hearing no cases.

In April, his attorney, James Gidley, asked the Fitness Commission to delay Galton's disciplinary hearing, citing several statements from his medical providers concerning what one doctor diagnosed as severe depression, anxiety and "volatile mood swings."

"He has slept no more than four hours a night for over 20 months," wrote another evaluator, psychologist Scott Losk. "Further, his concentration and memory problems have resulted in near total compromise in his ability to analyze information and to follow a train of thought in any detail."

The Fitness Commission forwarded the medical reports to Chief Justice Wally Carson, who can start the process for an involuntary disability retirement. In June, the commission scheduled Galton's long-delayed disciplinary hearing for July 18.

On June 29, at Carson's request, Galton met with the chief justice to discuss whether his problems were a temporary disability or permanent-which would enable Galton to take a medical retirement.

Galton, age 58 and a circuit-court judge since 1998, would ordinarily be eligible to retire in January 2007.

Disability retirement negotiations are usually secret. In Galton's case, they are part of the public record because he returned early this month to the Supreme Court and cited his mental condition in asking the justices to delay his July 18 hearing. Through his attorney, he also asked that his medical statements supporting that request be sealed.

On July 13, the justices ruled-with mixed results for Galton. They denied his request for secrecy while delaying his disciplinary proceedings-but only by 90 days, not indefinitely as his attorney had requested.

In other words, if Galton does not retire for medical reasons in the next three months, he could face discipline, potentially including his removal from the bench by the state Fitness Commission.

 
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