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State admonishes King County judge for six-month delay in custody ruling

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(The Center Square) – The Washington State Commission of Judicial Conduct has issued an admonishment to a King County Superior Court judge for failing to issue a timely decision in a child custody case. The admonishment comes as the judge has announced her intention to retire next year.

King County Superior Court Judge Mary E. Roberts had previously been sanctioned by the commission in 2017 for various delays, including nine months for final orders in a dissolution case and 10 months in that case for a post-trial motion.

In the latest case, Roberts had been presiding over a child custody case that concluded on July 1, 2022. However, she did not issue her ruling until January 17, 2023 – six and a half months later. State law requires such rulings be issued within 90 days.

In its June 21 decision, the commission wrote that “the nature of this type of misconduct is serious because rendering decisions is a core basic function for any judicial officer, and decisional delay potentially deprives litigants of timely justice which often cannot be remedied through the appellate process.”

The decision also stated that “the impact of respondent’s decisional delay in the custody matter was particularly aggravated because the lack of resolution caused added uncertainty and disruption in the context of an already very tenuous parent-child relationship.”

According to the investigation, Roberts took “full responsibility” for the delay, noting that it was “one of the most difficult cases she has dealt with in 20 years she has served as a judge” due to a history of mental illness and substance abuse for both parents.

The commission concluded that Roberts “credibly related the challenges the court faced to develop an evidentiary basis to make well-informed reasonable custody decisions.”

Additionally, Roberts stated, “that her own life circumstances as parent of a person in crisis complicated and compromised the prompt resolution of the parties’ case.”

“Judges are asked and expected to rise above their own personal challenges to meet the heavy responsibilities and expectations of their work, and the commission is not insensitive to the challenges Respondent has faced and the excellent work she typically produces,” the commission decision stated.

An admonishment is the “least severe” disciplinary action the commission can issue. Roberts is currently presiding over a therapeutic court and plans to retire in January, according to the commission decision.

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