Last updated 2006/10/23
Frank Lasalata was a judge in the San Juan Islands but has served occasionally as a pro tem (temporary substitute) judge in King County, was elected to office as a King County District Court judge in November 2006.
From the web site of his opponent in the election, I learned that Frank Lasalata defaulted on his mortgage payments in 2005 by about $23,000 and his home was foreclosed. Normally that would be a personal issue not worth raising here, even if it looks rather irresponsible for someone who got paid $125,000 per year as a judge. However, he filed a financial disclosure statement when running for office in 2006 in which he was required to list all real estate holdings over the previous year, but did not list the foreclosure (which fell in that time period). The statement is filed under penalty of perjury, which means filing a false statement is a felony. Richard Pope's campaign site has the chronology of the events leading up to the foreclosure and the filing of the disclosure statement. After Pope's site publicized the issue, Lasalata filed an amended disclosure form that did list the foreclosure.
I e-mailed the Frank Lasalata for judge campaign to ask if this was true, and they responded (possibly the e-mail was written by Lasalata himself; I don't know) with what looked like a form letter denouncing his opponent for "personal attacks":
Mr. Pope has a history of making personal attacks against his opponents in the 9 times he has unsuccessfully run for elected office in the last decade.
In all his unsuccessful campaigns for public office Mr. Pope makes these personal attacks in an attempt to divert the publics attention away from the true issues in the campaign...
(Read rest of the e-mail here)
If that's the campaign's best response, they shouldn't have bothered. Before, I hadn't made up my mind yet, but after getting that non-response, I'm pretty convinced that the paper trail shows he filed a false disclosure statement.
I emailed the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission to ask what the penalties are for filing a false disclosure statement, but have not received a response.
The first time I saw Judge Lasalata was at a Small Claims hearing on 9/11/2003, where he started the court calendar by saying to everyone there:
Judge Lasalata: What I'm going to do is call the calendar and find out who's here, I'm going to assign a case number for those who are here. When I call the calendar again, I want you to come forward and take seats on opposite sides of the courtroom. Everybody remain standing, I'll swear you in, we'll hear from the plaintiff first, we'll hear from the defendant second. Once I've made my decision, we're done. We're not gonna talk about it any more. If you want to get personal, I'm going to ask the courtroom deputy to come in and place people under arrest. This is a place where we need to maintain courtroom decorum; if you don't, you're gonna pay the consequences for it. I'm not gonna tolerate any personal attacks by anyone. The issues before this court are financial and financial only. If you make it personal, I will make it personal, you will go to jail. OK?
(For those considering trying out Small Claims court, most judges do not start out the session by chewing out everyone in the room before they've even had a chance to piss off the judge in their own right.) The only other time I saw him conducting hearings was when I had a Small Claims case on April 5, 2004, and he blew up on two other people having their case heard:
Judge Lasalata: There's not going to be any discourse between the two of you! [pause] [inaudible, one of the parties asks something] Sir -- time to be quiet! Got it? I've got a courtroom deputy out there, I'm happy to place you into custody and sit you back in a holding cell in the back if you don't want to listen to me! You got it straight? We're in court! You couldn't resolve this, now you're before me! I'm in control of this proceeding! When I tell you to be quiet, you be quiet! Understood?
[mp3 here -- oh, and turn your speakers down]
(This is a common misunderstanding in Small Claims court, where sometimes the judge doesn't want the parties to talk to each other -- not even politely, as the people in this lawsuit were doing -- and the people don't realize that until one asks the other a question and gets yelled at. I'm sure most parties would refrain from talking to each other if they knew that's what they were supposed to do, but if the judge wants that to be the rule, the judge just has to say that. Especially because this is not a standard Small Claims court rule; it depends on the judge, and some Small Claims judges do allow the parties to talk to each other.)
From Richard Pope's campaign web site I also learned of some quotes from others who had appeared before Judge Lasalata:
"I have appeared in front of Frank LaSalata as he has pro-temmed in our court numerous times. I found him to be rude and arrogant, not only to defendants and witnesses but to colleagues. When I lodged complaints with the courthouse staff about his lack of judicial demeanor, I was told that my complaint was among numerous complaints they had received. Very sensitive matters are handled in District Court daily. It is imperative that those cases be handled by a judge who not only knows the law but also knows how to keep from re-victimizing people from the bench."
-- Kara Murphy, Domestic Violence Legal Advocate, cities of Issaquah, Sammamish, Snoqualmie, and Kenmore
"I am a former court clerk at King County District Court, Redmond. I worked with Frank LaSalata many many times in Redmond and the Seattle division of the court. I would be deeply saddened if he won this election. His temper is an entity to be reckoned with and he is not intelligent when it comes to criminal matters in the court, or protection orders, or traffic laws, which district court deals extensively with. He is insecure on the bench when challenged by intelligent attorneys and gets angry."
-- Brooke Van Peski, Former King County District Court Clerk
Hmm. "Insecure on the bench when challenged by intelligent attorneys". Hey, how come he's never yelled at me directly, I'm not "intelligent" enough?
The first time I appeared before Judge Lasalata on September 11, 2003, I was suing someone out of state, and he said my case would have to be re-scheduled since you have to give someone 90 days when you sue them in Small Claims court:
Judge Lasalata: OK he was served in New Jersey on August 11th of this year. Service out of state, you have 90 days, before you can come in and request a default.
Bennett Haselton: Even in Small Claims?
Judge Lasalata: Even in Small Claims. 90 days.
So I did go ahead and re-schedule that case (and eventually won it). But then on 4/5/2004, another day when Judge Lasalata was hearing Small Claims cases including some spam cases that I had brought, he made a different ruling, dismissing the cases before either party could say anything:
Judge Lasalata: OK we've got three matters that first of all I'm going to deal with initially: Peacefire Inc. 1, 2, and 3 versus Luxxus Group, Seed Corn and Endril Inc. All three of these matters arise under Washington's spam statute, the email statute, and it's been the ruling of this court that any proceedings involving out of state defendants under this particular statute of Title 19 need to be brought as civil actions in civil court and not in Small Claims court. As such, items 1, 2, and 3 are hereby dismissed.
Bennett Haselton: [from the audience] Can I ask a question?
Judge Lasalata: Uh, no.
It's probably a good thing I didn't argue any more, since I stuck around after the cases were dismissed, and that's when I heard him blowing up at the other two people.
Of course, it's perfectly natural for judges to change their mind on a legal question. In fact it can normally reflect positively on them, to the extent that they're admitting their own fallibility. But if a judge changes their mind without admitting what they're doing, and without allowing any questions about their sudden change of position, that's not the same thing.
Anyway, becuase Judge Lasalata dismissed my $1,500 suit against Endril for one spam, I was able to go home and count up all the spams I'd ever gotten from Endril, then hire a lawyer and sue them in federal court for $75,000, which was later settled out of court. So don't ever ask me if I'm going to "make a federal case" out of something.
Judge Lasalata's endorsements page lists other judges who endorsed him in the 2006 election, including some that are listed on this site: Janet Garrow, Linda Jacke, Peter Nault, Fred Yeatts, Michael J. Fox and John O'Brien.
To be fair, Judge Lasalata's opponent, Richard Pope, would have been new to the bench and has gotten some poor ratings from civic groups as well as some complaints filed against him, according to the Lasalata campaign. So it's possible the judges who endorsed Lasalata were simply supporting what they saw as the "lesser of two evils".