An “unprecedented” hearing unfolded in Whatcom County Superior Court Friday, Jan. 27, resulting in the continuance of a temporary restraining order that prevents newly elected District Court Judge Jonathan Rands from ruling on more than 100 cases.
Superior Court Judge Robert Olson said on Friday he had “never experienced something like this” in his career, which began in 1996.
Four days after Rands took office, the prosecuting attorney’s office began filing affidavits of prejudice — which can be filed by any party in a District Court case to disqualify a judge when they believe the judge will not be fair to their side.
By Jan. 18, the office had filed 123 affidavits. The state then filed a petition on Jan. 20 to compel Rands to recuse himself from the list of 123 cases and void any action he had already taken, claiming he did not heed the affidavits.
At that time, the state also requested, and was granted by the Superior Court, a temporary restraining order, according to documents obtained by Cascadia Daily News.
After defeating opponent Gordon Jenkins — county deputy prosecuting attorney — in the 2022 election, Rands was sworn into office on Jan. 9. Before becoming a judicial officer, Rands was a well-known defense attorney, focusing much of his practice on DUI cases.
Rands’ initial chosen counsel, Steve Hayne, submitted a motion to vacate the temporary restraining order on Jan. 25. But because the district court was the named defendant in the petition for writs, and not Rands, Hayne withdrew from the case. Attorney Shane Brady will represent the district court in the case moving forward.
Olson admitted confusion during Friday’s hearing about who was representing whom. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Levi Uhrig asserted the petition was filed against the district court, not Rands, relieving him of needing counsel.
“Uhrig was really saying Jonathan Rands has no right to defend himself,” Hayne said after Friday’s hearing. “They chose to name the Whatcom County District Court as a whole instead of the real person that’s involved in this controversy, Judge Rands. That is probably the worst example of sophistry I’ve ever heard in 47 years of law. And I mean that.”
Olson also addressed the interpretation of the restraining order, which names the district court as the defendant. District Court Judge Angela Anderson was in attendance, and Olson allowed her to take on the 123 cases Rands is barred from ruling on.
“We can’t just leave cases of defendants who have constitutional rights in limbo,” Olson said.
Hayne said what is most troubling to him is the timing of the affidavits, which were mostly filed before Rands had the chance to rule on a single case.
“It is unprecedented and it has implications that are disturbing and troubling,” Hayne said. “It kind of makes you wonder if this isn’t a message from the prosecutor to any other judge that might be elected in the county.”
In courts with multiple judges, affidavits of prejudice can be filed within a 10-day window beginning on the date of “notice of assignment or reassignment to a designated judge,” according to court law.
The division lies on when that 10-day period began. The state asserts the 10 days began when Rands was sworn into office on Jan. 9.
In an order filed by Rands on Jan. 18, he responded to 50 of the state’s motions citing their untimeliness because the state had “10 days from 3 possible separate points in time” to file the motions to disqualify him: 10 days after the election result on Nov. 9; 10 days after the election certification on Nov. 29; or, “generously,” 10 days after retiring Judge Matt Elich stated on Dec. 29 that Rands would be handling all cases previously assigned to Elich.
During an omnibus calendar on Jan. 17, Rands made discretionary rulings “over the state’s objection,” according to the petition.
Another hearing is set for Feb. 6, and the temporary restraining order on Rands will expire two weeks from Friday.
This story was updated to broaden the definition of an affidavit of prejudice at 1:47 p.m. Jan. 30, 2023.