Case Details


Attorney General Control Of Litigation, Relationship To State Judicial Branch.

Filing State



Washington Supreme Court




Sanders v. State,139 Wn. App. 200; 159 P.3d 479 (Wash. 2007), aff’d Sanders v. State, 166 Wn.2d 164 (Wash. 2009)


A Washington Supreme Court justice was not guaranteed representation by the state attorney general for private acts that constituted ethical violations

Case Description

A state Supreme Court justice was accused of misconduct and requested legal representation by the Attorney General’s office in connection with the proceedings of the Commission on Judicial Conduct (Commission) and while prosecuting the appeal from those findings. The Attorney General rejected the Justice’s request and the Justice brought a declaratory judgment action seeking reimbursement for his attorneys fees. The Commission later ruled that the Justice had violated the Canons of Judicial Conduct and the Supreme Court upheld the Commission’s ruling. The Justice argued that the applicable statutes required the Attorney General to defend any state officer who was acting in the course of his duties, without regard to whether there was malfeasance or misfeasance on the part of the state officer. The court of appeals determined that the state’s Ethics in Public Service Act applied to proceedings of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. That Act provides that the attorney general’s duty to defend the accused state officer or employee does not commence until and unless the ethics board determines, after reviewing the facts, either with or without a hearing, that there is not reasonable cause to believe that the officer or employee has violated the Act. This statutory scheme clearly assumes discretion on the part of the Attorney General to determine when the state will represent an officer.