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Brandt v. Easton

March 24, 1997

WILLIAM H. BRANDT, APPELLANT,
v.
JOAN EASTON, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 96-2-02951-3.

PER CURIAM. -- William H. Brandt appeals the order of summary judgment dismissing his claims against court clerks for negligent action which allegedly resulted in his wrongful arrest and detention and for a conspiracy to cover up the negligent acts. The trial court dismissed Brandt's claims on the grounds of judicial immunity and failure to state a claim. We affirm.

FACTS

In determining immunity, this court accepts Brandt's allegations as true. Creelman v. Svenning, 67 Wash. 2d 882, 883, 410 P.2d 606 (1966).

Brandt was charged in King County District Court with one count of third degree malicious mischief and one count of second degree trespass. He pled not guilty. At a readiness hearing, a deputy prosecutor offered a plea bargain. Brandt refused, and the case was set for trial.

The day before the first jury trial date, the deputy prosecutor offered to dismiss the case, but asked Brandt to pay court costs. He refused. The prosecutor told him that nonetheless she was going to move to dismiss.

On the following day, Brandt appeared for trial, entering the courtroom 15 minutes after proceedings commenced. During a recess in the proceedings, Brandt approached the Judge's clerk and asked if his case had been dismissed. She stated that it had and said he need not appear before the Judge. Brandt then left. But eight months later, two police officers arrested him on a warrant for failure to appear for trial. Brandt attempted to document his belief that the case had been dismissed and that the warrant was a mistake.

Brandt spoke with another deputy prosecutor before the second readiness hearing, who stated that the case had not been dismissed because Brandt left too early. The prosecutor said he would make the same offer to dismiss in exchange for court costs. At the second readiness hearing, a third deputy prosecuting attorney offered to dismiss the case in exchange for forfeiture of Brandt's one hundred dollars bail. He refused, and the case was again set for trial.

On the date set for jury trial, the court granted the State's motion to dismiss the charges with prejudice. The court docket lists the reasons for dismissal as the age of the case and of the witnesses.

Brandt filed this complaint against Joan Easton, Judicial Services

Supervisor for the Northeast Division of King County District Court, and other unnamed district court clerks under her supervision. Brandt alleged that the clerk in the courtroom negligently failed to inform the Judge that he had appeared but left because the clerk told him that his case had been dismissed and that he did not have to appear before the Judge. He alleged that he was wrongfully arrested and detained as a result. Brandt also alleged that at least two clerks were involved in a conspiracy to cover up the error. He alleged that audio tapes of the court proceeding, which should have included the statement by the clerk that his case was dismissed, had been altered, and that this contributed to his wrongful prosecution.

The trial court dismissed Brandt's complaint, ruling that his first claim against the court clerks was barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity and that the cover-up claim failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. CR 12(b)(6).

Judicial Immunity Brandt contends that the court clerk's failure to inform the Judge Brandt had appeared and been told to leave is a ministerial act not entitled to immunity.

Judges are absolutely immune from civil damage suits for acts performed within their judicial capacity. Taggart v. State, 118 Wash. 2d 195, 203, 822 P.2d 243 (1992); Adkins v. Clark County, 105 Wash. 2d 675, 677, 717 P.2d 275 (1986). The purpose of judicial immunity is not to protect Judges as individuals, but to ensure that Judges can administer Justice without fear of personal consequences. If disgruntled litigants could raise civil claims against Judges, then "Judges would lose 'that independence without which no judiciary can either be respectable or useful.'

" Taggart, 118 Wash. 2d at 203 (quoting Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 509, 98 S. Ct. 2894, 57 L. Ed. 2d 895 (1978))(citation omitted). Judicial immunity also extends to the acts of quasi-judicial officers which are functionally similar enough to those ...


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