Seattle Municipal Court judge speaks out after being accused of biased rulings by city attorney's office

Could it be a case of a biased judge? The Seattle City Attorney's Office apparently thinks so.  

The office started filing affidavits of prejudice against Judge Pooja Vaddadi last week, accusing her of bias and preventing her from hearing new criminal cases.  

The judge is independently elected, and she spoke to FOX 13 on her own behalf on Monday, not as a spokesperson for the court. She said before this, she didn't have any decisions reversed by a higher court and did not meet with any of the attorneys to discuss these concerns, so she says the accusations of bias are surprising. 

"This is the largest scale I’ve ever seen it used," said Vaddadi, a Seattle Municipal Court Judge.

Vaddadi says the first signs of trouble began last week when the city attorney's office began the filing of hundreds of affidavits of prejudice to stop her from hearing any new criminal cases coming in. 

"I signed somewhere around 150 on Thursday and I know they were still coming through on Friday," said Vaddadi. 

A Feb. 27 memo from the Seattle Prosecuting Attorney's Office Criminal Division stated, "All parties have the legal right" to file affidavits, "if the party believes that it cannot receive a fair hearing or trial."  

City Attorney Ann Davison also stated that Judge Vaddadi was accused of a "regular pattern of biased rulings." 

When asked if she believes that she has been biased in her rulings, Vaddadi responded, "I don’t believe I have. All my decisions have been made within the confines of the law," said Vaddadi. 

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office also accused the judge of routinely overruling prior findings of probable cause by fellow judges, and failing to find it in situations where the office believes it clearly exists.  

When asked about those accusations, Vaddadi said, "That would be incredibly unethical and contrary to my duties as a judge, so I do not do that."

City attorneys also claimed that she made improper rulings related to domestic violence by failing to issue written no-contact orders, even in situations with a demonstrated history of domestic violence. She was also accused of releasing a person twice in one week for DUI. The City Attorney's Office also said that person, "was in recent years convicted of DUI as well." 

When asked if she made improper rulings concerning public safety, domestic violence or DUI cases, the judge responded by saying, "No. In each case, I have to follow the court rules. I think specifically what she must be talking about is pre-trial release. I can only imagine… I need to follow court rule 3.2 that talks about the release of the accused. I need to balance public safety with the rights of the accused. I can’t violate either one of those." 

Vaddadi is also accused by city prosecutors of raising arguments on behalf of defendants without prompting or argument from their own attorneys.     

"I affectionately call the municipal court a teaching court. A lot of the time, we do have young attorneys who are practicing for the first time, maybe during their first year of practice, and I am supposed to rule on the law within my discretion, not based on what’s prompted to me," said Vaddadi.  "If I do believe an attorney is making a mistake, it’s common for myself and other judges to step in and make sure the record is clear and laws are being followed." 

As for which particular cases prompted action from the City Attorney's Office, Vaddadi says that is unclear. 

"I’ve not been provided with case numbers, names of defendants, or days. I’ve not seen any of my rulings be reversed by a higher court," she said. 

 Vaddadi says the actions of the prosecutor's office won't impact how she operates in court. 

"I have always felt I have been making unbiased, unprejudiced decisions on this bench, and it's not going to influence how I do things," she said. 

The Seattle Municipal Court released a statement independent of Vaddadi;

"The Seattle City Attorney’s decision to affidavit Judge Vaddadi on all new criminal case filings will impact Seattle Municipal Court. Judge Vaddadi will not be able to handle arraignments (first appearance hearings), or subsequent pretrial hearings or trials for new cases filed with an affidavit. She currently is in a calendar rotation that has her assigned to all these hearing types, and these calendars will now have to be assigned to other judges and pro tem resources. There is a body of cases that Judge Vaddadi is overseeing where there is not an option for affidavit of prejudice and she will continue to preside over these cases. This is a challenging time for the court because we are in the process of transitioning to a new case management system which is also impacting our calendar capacity for the next couple of weeks." 

A full statement from the City Attorney's Office reads: