Should state's high court rule on one of its own?

Even though the ruling seems reasonable, the close relationship between the justices could cause the ruling to be questioned.

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Last week a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled for and against one of its justices, Richard Sanders, in a public records lawsuit against the state.

The case stems from Sanders being admonished for talking with prisoners at the state's center for violent sexual predators at McNeil Island while some inmates had pending court cases. Sanders sued the state in 2005 after admonishment and sought all documents related to the visit, including e-mail among state attorneys.

But the high court affirmed much of an earlier Thurston County Superior Court ruling that held that most of the more than 100 exempt documents Sanders was seeking were properly withheld. However, the Supreme Court said four additional e-mails were improperly withheld and should have been released.

The court granted Sanders' additional legal fees incurred during the appeal, and awarded him a penalty based on the additional documents released, but rejected his request for an increase in the penalty rate against the state, The Associated Press reported.

The ruling would seem to be reasonable and fair.

However, why is the state Supreme Court making judgments in a case involving one of its own?

While the eight justices of the high court are clearly committed to serving justice and doing what's right, they are human. They work closely with Sanders and form personal opinions about him. It makes little difference whether each of the justices love Sanders or loathe him. These opinions of him, whether intended or not, do influence their judgment.

We understand the ramifications of this case are relatively minor, but if the justices rule on this case involving a fellow justice they are likely to rule on cases that might be more far reaching.

The justices should have recused themselves from the Sanders case. The decision might have been exactly the same, but the appearance of personal influence would in no way be a question.



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