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Judicial commission alleges misconduct by Tri-Cities judge

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(The Center Square) – Washington state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct has accused a Tri-Cities judge of misconduct for his alleged behavior against his former wife and a former girlfriend.

The charges were filed Monday against Judge Samuel Swanberg, who has served as a superior court judge in Benton and Franklin counties since October 2017. Swanberg, 57, of Pasco, has 21 days to respond. Failure to do so would constitute admission of the allegations.

Swanberg did submit an initial written response a year ago, following an independent investigation by the commission which began disciplinary proceedings in October 2022.

According to the CJC, Swanberg engaged in “harassing behavior” toward a former Franklin County court employee after she ended a romantic relationship with the judge that began in 2021. The woman, in her mid-20s, obtained an anti-harassment protection order, but Swanberg allegedly made repeated attempts to contact her, including misusing his judicial position “under a fabricated pretext” to contact her at another office in Benton County.

The employee’s petition for the anti-harassment order was supported by Swanberg’s ex-wife, who alleged in a sworn declaration that she was subjected to ongoing physical and emotional abuse during her 33 years of marriage to the judge. The former spouse cited two specific incidents in February 2021 that were investigated by law enforcement. In January 2022, Swanberg was subsequently charged in district court with two counts of fourth-degree assault (domestic violence). He denied the allegations and was acquitted at trial.

Nonetheless, during an executive session earlier this month, the CJC concluded there is probable cause that Swanberg violated canon rules governing compliance with the law, avoiding impropriety, and abuse of office “to advance … personal or economic interests ….”

On Wednesday, CJC Executive Director J. Reiko Callner said Swanberg had not yet responded to the charges. Assuming that occurs and he denies them, there will be a 60-day discovery period after which arrangements will be made for an evidentiary hearing.

If any violations are substantiated, the commission has authority to impose disciplinary sanctions that range in severity from admonishment, reprimand, or censure, the highest level. If censured, the commission can recommend that a judge be suspended or removed from the bench – actions that can only be imposed by the state supreme court.

In Washington, superior court judicial positions are non-partisan elective offices carrying four-year terms. Swanberg was most recently re-elected in 2020. Judges preside over felony criminal cases and civil, divorce, probate, and adoption cases, among other duties. They receive annual salaries of $217,391 – half paid by the state, half by the county in which they preside.

The Commission on Judicial Conduct is comprised of 11 members: three judges, two lawyers, and six non-attorney citizens. Members are volunteers appointed to four-year terms and each has an alternate member.

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