Rick Porter: Cry-baby or Corrupt?
Opinion by Dale Wilson
Clallam County, and all governments, are required by law to provide defense attorneys to anyone accused of crimes–if they cannot afford to hire their own attorney. This is codified in the 1966 Miranda v Arizona decision by the United States Supreme Court.
For 30 years Clallam Public Defenders’ office, a non-profit law firm, has provided this service to indigent defendants brought up on charges in Clallam County. Not once in these 30 years has the county been sued for inadequate indigent defense.
Outgoing Commissioner Jim McEntire, on his way out the door, thought it a good idea to disrupt three decades of successful indigent representation by appointing one of his friends, Will Payne as the new indigent defense counsel.
Payne is now in private practice.
McEntire’s efforts are buttressed by the antics of District Court Judge Rick Porter who privately threatened to bar all lawyers from the Clallam Public Defender’s office from appearing in “his” court room. This would ensure appointment of McEntire’s friend as the new indigent defense counselor. Porter was in the audience at the county commission meeting when the deal was supposed to go down.
Few knew of Porter’s threat until County Administrator, Jim Jones put it in his executive summary, by which he recommended commissioners appoint Will Payne, new indigent defense counsel.
Since Payne was defeated in his bid to become the elected County Prosecutor he has picked up indigent defense duties, contracting with the city of Port Angeles, to provide counsel for city-charged defendants.
In the executive summary, delivered to the county commission, Jones outlines weaknesses in each of the two bids delivered to the county for indigent defense contracts. Jones cited as the weakness in Clallam Public Defender’s bid: “District Court Judge Rick Porter and Clallam Public Defender Director, Harry Gasnick have a long-standing and very serious professional/personal dispute.” Jones did not explain the nature of this long-standing dispute.
The weakness in Payne’s bid, according to Jones, is the fact that Payne is a good friend of outgoing County Commissioner, Jim McEntire.
Port O Call attempted to interview Porter to determine the nature of this “long-standing dispute” but Porter declined an interview as he hurried up the back stairs of the court house after leaving the county commission meeting whereat this contract award was being discussed.
The daily paper sought to quiz Porter on this “long-standing dispute” but, according to the PDN, “Porter was not immediately available.”
Port O Call requested, via U. S. Mail, a 15 minute interview with Porter and received no response.
Community leader, Norma Turner, holding up a New York Times bestselling book titled: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, addressed the commissioners saying, “adversarial relationships between judges and attorneys are good for clients. If you look at the whole legal system it is based on contention.”
Without some better explanation of this “long-standing dispute” it looks like Porter is using his judicial office to steer a government contract to one of the “good ole boys.” If he was not attempting to influence the award of a contract then he is clearly incompetent. A mature legal mind would have known the ramifications of such a comment and would have been ethical/professional enough to keep his professional pains to himself.
If it is because Clallam Public Defenders is too hard on him, appeals too many of his rulings, wins too many of these appeals, causes his sentences to be modified or dismissed, causes him to obey the court rules, then he is doubly inept.
Judge Porter, it is time to put on the record the exact nature of this dispute. If it is personal you are being childish and immature. If it is professional you need to put the facts out there and let the public know just exactly why you threaten to bar an entire law firm from practicing in what you consider “your” court room.
Short of this you are perceived as attempting to influence the award of a million dollar government contract which is illegal and unethical and you should resign.