Judge Called Mukasey "Tyrant" At Speech

Justice Richard Sanders during a session of the Washington State Supreme Court held at the Seattle University School of Law, Oct. 11, 2005, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders says he was speaking his conscience when he stood up and yelled "tyrant!" at U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week, during a speech in which Mukasey later fainted.

Mukasey was the keynote speaker at a black-tie dinner Thursday night in Washington, D.C., for The Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. In his speech, Mukasey offered a defense against criticisms about the Bush administration's policies in the war on terrorism.

In a statement released Tuesday, Sanders said he "passionately" disagrees with those policies and felt compelled to say so. Sanders, who is a Federalist Society member, said that he wasn't heckling Mukasey, and left shortly after his outburst.

"I believe we must speak our conscience in moments that demand it, even if we are but one voice," he said in the statement, citing access to the legal system for detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the importance of the Geneva Conventions.

Sanders released the statement after blogs, political TV shows and news reports said that Mukasey had been heckled during the speech and that Sanders might have been the source.

Sanders initially dodged reporters' questions about the incident this week, refusing to comment on anything he might have said at the event.

A video on the Federalist Society's Web site shows that Sanders' outburst came just over 17 minutes into Mukasey's speech, after Mukasey talked about what he said was the "casual assumption among many in media, political and legal circles that the administration's counterterrorism policies have come at the expense of the rule of law."

Shortly after that point on the video, a voice is clearly heard yelling: "Tyrant! You are a tyrant!"

Mukasey can be seen briefly stopping and looking up from his speech. Other members of the audience can be heard shushing the yeller, and another voice is heard saying "sit down."

A few minutes later, Mukasey began shaking and slurring his words. He repeated a phrase - "as a result" - three times and then slumped forward on the podium. His FBI security detail ran to catch him as he fell. He was released from the hospital the next day and his office said he had suffered a fainting spell.

Sanders said he had already left the speech before Mukasey collapsed, and did not learn of it until the next day.

"It should go without saying that, despite our vastly different views on what constitutes upholding the rule of law, I hope he continues to recover and remain in good health," Sanders wrote.

Chief Justice Gerry Alexander said Tuesday that he was very concerned about the outburst's potential damage to Sanders' reputation, and to the court.

Alexander said he planned to speak privately to Sanders to express his disapproval about the incident, but said he has no authority to discipline him.

"People have a First Amendment right to speak, but that's not conduct that I would like to see judges display," Alexander said.

Sanders first was elected to the Supreme Court in a 1995 special election, and was re-elected in 1998 and 2004. He next faces voters in 2010.

Sanders, a self-described conservative and defender of individual freedoms, is known for his sometimes passionate dissenting opinions. His personal biography says that, as a judge, he "regards protection of our constitutionally guaranteed liberties as the first duty of our highest court."

In 2005, Sanders was given an admonishment - the lightest possible punishment - by the state Judicial Conduct Commission for touring Washington's sex predator commitment center at McNeil Island while residents had appeals pending.

The commission said Sanders went to the center, which houses sex offenders who are kept in custody indefinitely after their prison sentences are served, at the invitation of some inmates.

Officials said Sanders told the inmates he couldn't talk about their specific cases, but accepted documents from some and brought up issues that were before the court, including that of "volitional control" - whether sex predators can control their criminal impulses.

Sanders appealed his admonishment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to review his case.

He previously was cleared of breaking judicial canons of ethics for attending an anti-abortion rally at the state Capitol.
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