Judge Ed McKenna retires early, says his job was ‘becoming more difficult’

Apr 16, 2020, 3:21 PM
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King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

Judge Ed McKenna announced his abrupt retirement earlier this month, with two years left to serve as presiding judge in the Seattle Municipal Court. He was often in the news as the one person who seemed to be willing to take a strong stand against the revolving door of criminals seen in the Seattle area in recent years.

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“I’ve been a public servant for more than 30 years, both as a prosecutor and as a judge,” McKenna told The Dori Monson Show. “I enjoyed my job as a judge for a while, but it just started becoming more difficult.”

The issues, McKenna said, started with some of the budgetary issues in the court, and his “head butting, so to speak,” with the city attorney and public defender.

“My goal had always been to make it to my 30-year retirement date. And so when that day came, I just decided it was time,” he said.

The “head butting” includes the story that made news last year when McKenna tried to sentence Seattle’s most notorious repeat offender, Francisco Calderon, to one year in jail.

“When Mr. Calderon came before me for sentencing on that occasion, I questioned the prosecutor and basically said, ‘At what point do you decide to consider public safety in your sentencing?'” McKenna recalled. “Mr. Calderon had been before me on numerous prior occasions, and I had sentenced him to both mental health and substance abuse treatment, none of which he ever accomplished.”

At the time, McKenna believes Calderon had 14 assault convictions.

“These aren’t just charges, these are actual convictions,” McKenna said. ” … I said, something has to be done. I had to protect the public if the prosecutor wouldn’t.”

Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney, criticized McKenna for his sentencing. Holmes said he was engaging in non-restorative justice.

“I’m all in favor of treatment for offenders because at some point a person’s going to be out of custody,” McKenna said. “But in Mr. Calderon’s case, he wouldn’t do it, … despite numerous opportunities in the past, it was clear and apparent that he was not going to partake in any services that were offered to him.”

Even though he recognized this, the prosecutor did not.

“At some point you have to recognize there are some persons that simply won’t partake in treatment,” McKenna said. “And you have to protect the public. And I’m not sure why the prosecutor simply couldn’t recognize that in Mr. Calderon’s case, and we’ve seen Mr. Calderon has offended multiple times even since then. … If there’s any predictor of future behavior, it’s a person’s criminal history.”

With 72 convictions, McKenna believes it was clear that he would re-offend.

“But by sentencing him to a year, I probably prevented seven more people from being victims, and we’ve seen what’s happened since he’s been out since.”

Holmes and Anita Khandelwal, executive director of the Public Defender Association, filed a public letter alleging McKenna of misconduct.

“There was a huge spike in the affidavits to keep me from hearing cases after that,” the judge said. “And so when another news organization started investigating those affidavits, they suddenly stopped, which indicates clearly that those affidavits were based solely upon the false information that was contained in the Holmes, Khandelwal letter that was issued publicly.”

Judge McKenna then filed a judicial complaint against himself. If there is a concern about the ethics of a judge, you can file a complaint and the Judicial Conduct Commission will investigate and take any necessary action, McKenna explained.

Holmes and Khandelwal did not file a complaint through this voter-approved process.

“Mr. Holmes never filed an affidavit of prejudice against me to recuse myself from any of his cases, but instead they issued this very public letter alleging a whole host of things that I allegedly said and did, which I didn’t,” McKenna said. ” … And so the only way that I could, I guess, show the public that it was untrue was by filing a complaint against myself, alleging the information that was contained in the letter.”

Dori said the judge sounds like he was just tired of banging his head against the wall, to which McKenna agreed was a fair statement.

“Changes on the city council, the thoughts of our local prosecutors, the pressure that is being placed on judges because they are elected individuals, there’s a whole host of issues that I think, combined, ultimately result in a detrimental impact to public safety.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Judge Ed McKenna retires early, says his job was ‘becoming more difficult’