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Whatcom Superior Court finds judge acted in error, can’t hear 123 DUI cases

Writ will compel Rands to hand over cases; any prior rulings moot

Whatcom County District Court Judge Jonathan Rands listens during a Jan. 27 Superior Court hearing. Superior Court Judge Rob Olson issued a ruling Feb. 13 that found writs sought by the state to compel Rands to recuse himself from 123 cases and to void any discretionary rulings Rands had made on those cases
Whatcom County District Court Judge Jonathan Rands listens during a Jan. 27 Superior Court hearing. Superior Court Judge Rob Olson issued a ruling Feb. 13 that found writs sought by the state to compel Rands to recuse himself from 123 cases and to void any discretionary rulings Rands had made on those cases (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Audra Anderson Assistant Editor

The Whatcom County Superior Court found at a Monday, Feb. 13 hearing that newly elected District Court Judge Jonathan Rands acted in error when he refused to recuse himself from more than 100 cases after the state filed affidavits of prejudice.

The prosecuting attorney’s office pursued 123 affidavits of prejudice, or notices of disqualification, in the nine days following Rands’ swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 9, barring him from hearing the cases, all of which involve a DUI charge

A writ will order Rands to hand over 123 cases to Judge Angela Anderson, the second district court justice. Any discretionary rulings made by Rands in the listed cases are moot, per Monday’s decision. A temporary restraining order on Rands will also expire.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Robert Olson concluded a nearly monthlong legal spat between the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the district court.

“It should not take a very observant person to recognize the issues and circumstances brought before this court have significant political dimensions, and aspects of it appear to be playing themselves out in the court of public opinion,” Olson said during Monday’s hearing. 

Olson noted an opinion article that ran in The Bellingham Herald, signed by judges across the state, that indicated actions taken by the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office were a threat to judicial independence and an effort to intimidate a judge. Olson said, on the other hand, the “highly publicized opinion” by members of the state’s judiciary might be seen as an attempt to influence Olson’s superior court. 

“It’s been suggested my office filed the affidavits of prejudice for political reasons, and I want to make it clear that the actions my office took were not due to the results of the election,” Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey said in a video statement following Olson’s ruling. “It’s not about politics; this is about protecting the community and the state’s ability to a fair trial.” 

The cases on which Rands is barred from ruling make up an estimated 6% of his total caseload, Richey said in the video. 

Richey, in a phone interview after the ruling, declined to say whether his office will continue to pursue affidavits of prejudice for DUI cases to which Rands is assigned.


“Usually these notices of disqualification become fewer over time and that’s because the judge is able to demonstrate they’re able to give all litigants a fair hearing,” Richey said in the video. 

Many of the cases Rands was disqualified from had the possibility of a “Kitsap motion,” which argues the state should be prevented from using blood alcohol content breath test evidence in criminal DUI cases because of the way machines report results

Rands — formerly a defense attorney specializing in DUI cases — and another attorney filed two Kitsap motions in two district court cases last November before Rands took office. Both district court judges denied the motions. 

Based on comments Rands allegedly made to a defense attorney about the possibility of rehearing the Kitsap motion in his capacity as judge, and his history with the motion, the prosecuting attorney’s office sought 50 affidavits of prejudice. The legal maneuver can be filed in a 10-day window and compels a judge to remove themself from a case when it is believed they will not be fair to one party. 

Rands, however, did not recuse himself from the cases, stating the affidavits were untimely. He also stated he could agree not to hear a Kitsap motion but should not be precluded from hearing a case altogether. 

Rands’ response led the state to pursue additional affidavits of prejudice, writs of mandamus and certiorari, and a restraining order to prevent Rands from hearing the cases. 

During a Monday, Feb. 13 morning hearing, the state argued writs of mandamus and certiorari were needed to compel Rands to recuse himself from the 123 cases and void any discretionary rulings he made in those cases. District court’s counsel, Shane Brady, argued the state was looking for an “extraordinary remedy.” Brady declined to comment following Olson’s ruling.  

In the Monday morning hearing, Olson asked Brady what remedy the state could have sought if Rands refused to recuse himself from cases in which affidavits of prejudice were filed. 

Olson decided the affidavits of prejudice were timely filed because the 10-day window began when Rands took office on Jan. 9 and all the affidavits were filed by Jan. 18. 

“Writs of mandamus and certiorari are appropriate remedies in the present circumstances. This court has the authority to issue them and doing so would serve as the most efficient means of addressing the issues brought before this court,” Olson said in his ruling.  

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