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Top Seattle attorneys accuse municipal court judge of bias sentencing

The two top lawyers in Seattle have accused the presiding judge of the municipal court of multiple ethics violations.

Seattle's city attorney and top public defender accused a municipal court judge of violating judicial conduct. A letter to Judge Ed McKenna describes several incidents they call “violations” of judicial ethics.

City Attorney Pete Holmes and top public defender Anita Khandelwal asked Judge McKenna to step aside as the acting presiding judge of the Seattle municipal court.

They claim McKenna has not acted with impartiality and that he has criticized the city for not requesting longer sentences for defendants.

One specific event Holmes and Khandelwal cite in the letter claims McKenna violated judicial conduct in the sentencing of Francisco Calderon. In January, Calderon faced sentencing for misdemeanor assault. Holmes and Khandelwal said a joint recommendation from attorneys advised Calderon should be ordered to complete treatment. They said he had already served 50 days in jail.

McKenna sentenced him to 364 days, a sentence Holmes and Khandelwal called an “extraordinary sentence…rarely imposed in Seattle Municipal Court.”

The two lawyers also accused McKenna of personally inviting a news reporter and Jennifer Coats, a member of Safe Seattle, to attend the sentencing to witness his unusual punishment.

“Your invitation…suggests you decided the outcome in Mr. Calderon’s matter before sentencing – before the parties had an opportunity to present argument and before Mr. Calderon could address the court,” the letter states.

McKenna released this initial statement Wednesday: "I take issue with the assertions made by Ms. Khandelwal and Mr. Holmes. The letter was released to the media before I received it. Having just received the letter, I need time to consider it and I will be issuing a formal response in the near future."

Then in a letter back to Holmes and Khandelwal, McKenna said he would not step aside.

"As a judge, I have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the City of Seattle and the State of Washington and I take this oath very seriously," McKenna stated in his letter. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Jennifer Coats as a member of Speak Out Seattle. The incorrect identification was based off of information provided by the City of Seattle. Coats is a member of Safe Seattle.

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