Judge Eileen Kato

Long before I ever had a case before Judge Kato, I had heard of her from a fellow spammer-suer, Joel Hodgell, when she ruled that he could not bring lawsuits against out-of-state spammers in Small Claims court. Then when Hodgell sued a spammer in District Court instead, Judge Kato dismissed the case on a technicality and ordered him to pay nearly $7,000 in attorney's fees to the spammer's lawyer. (This is a risk that generally doesn't come up in Small Claims court, since in Small Claims neither side is usually allowed a lawyer, and there are no attorney's fees to award.) Hodgell said that Kato was personally biased against him and was quoted in the article as saying, "I do not plan on paying such an unfair judgment awarded by a clearly unfair judge." (I don't know if he eventually did.)

So when I first had a case heard by Judge Kato on December 29, 2005 (case Y5-8811 in Seattle District Court against IKnowMedia.com, Inc.), I was expecting someone extremely strict and hostile to spam plaintiffs. Actually, I thought she acted considerate toward all the parties in court, polite almost to a fault. I was still a bit wary, since I'd seen at least one instance when a judge who seemed to have a grudge against me was polite to everyone except me and then really chewed me out when it was my turn, but Judge Kato was polite to me as well. Then, she awarded me a $1,500 judgment against an out-of-state spammer.

So apparently Judge Kato was in fact personally biased against Joel Hodgell, or at least likes him less than me, at least until this page goes up.

NOTE: Joel Hodgell and I, along with several other anti-spam activists, have met with Washington State Senator Bill Finkbeiner, who authored Washington's anti-spam law. In 2002 we asked for a change to the law to clear up any confusion by explicitly allowing spam victims to sue spammers in Small Claims Court (which is by far the easiest place to sue spammers, since no attorneys are required or even allowed). The senators said that that would be too difficult because if the anti-spam law affected the Small Claims regulations, it would have to be approved by a group of different committees, or something (I don't remember that part). The most the senators could do was to insert a new section of the law in 2003, saying that District Court (of which Small Claims court is one part) could hear anti-spam cases (this is now section 10 of RCW 3.66.020).

However, Small Claims Court is only a part of District Court. The change to the law didn't really affect anything, because it only said that you could sue spammers in District Court, but all judges already agreed that you could use District Court to sue spammers -- the controversy was over whether you could sue them in the Small Claims division of District Court.

According to a Seattle Times article, when then-Attorney General Christine Gregoire pushed for the change in the law, the main incident that she cited was Judge Kato hitting Joel Hodgell with the $7,000 attorney's fees penalty after Kato blocked him from suing in Small Claims Court.

So it's possible Judge Kato had decided as a face-saving measure to start allowing Small Claims plaintiffs to sue out-of-state defendants, by citing the 2003 change in the law. But if Kato or any judge is using that as the reason for changing their position on this issue, that is not valid -- the change in the law only says that you can sue out-of-state spammers in District Court, not necessarily that you can sue them in Small Claims Court.