A Tri-Cities judge under investigation for the recent DUI is back on the bench after taking leave, but he won’t be presiding over any criminal cases.
Benton County District Court Judge Terry M. Tanner was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated on Jan. 2 in Richland.
He is accused of wrecking his car against a concrete block on the 2600 block of Kingsgate Way.
It’s his second DUI. His first also involved a wreck in 2018.
After the January arrest, District Court officials announced Tanner would be taking a month-long leave to focus on his health.
Back at work
On Friday, District Court Presiding Judge Dan Kathren told the Herald in an email that Tanner has been back at work for a few weeks, but is not presiding over criminal cases.
“Because we take this situation seriously, to avoid any potential conflicts of interest he is not currently hearing criminal cases for any jurisdiction,” Kathren said.
“Judge Tanner is currently presiding over several civil dockets and off docket matters, as well as completing administrative tasks on criminal matters such as signing warrants ordered by other judges,” he said.
Kathren said Tanner is also reading “Advanced Sheets” from recently decided Supreme Court and Appeals Courts cases in order to brief the other judges on the bench on information pertinent to District Court.
Because Tanner is still a duly elected judge he continues to be paid for the position, so the court is doing all they can to ensure that taxpayers are receiving full-time judicial services, while avoiding any actual or apparent conflicts of interest, he wrote.
“A great deal of work goes on behind the scenes to ensure that court proceedings are performed fully and fairly,” Kathren wrote. “Judge Tanner has a great deal of knowledge and experience with matters pertaining to the administration of the department and personnel matters and continues to be a very valuable member of the District Court Management Team.”
Tanner, a former Richland city councilman, was appointed to District Court in 2009. He was re-elected last November to a new 4-year term when he ran unopposed.
The annual salary for full-time District Court judges in Washington in 2022 was about $193,000. They preside over misdemeanor charges, such as DUIs, traffic offenses and minor assaults, as well as civil actions, such as small claims court.
Tanner’s DUI case is still pending. The case has been transferred to Yakima County District Court to prevent conflicts of interest in Benton County.
He also has been ordered to wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet and to have an ignition interlock device installed in his car, according to court documents.
Court documents say that after the Jan. 2 crash, Tanner initially told Richland police officers that he was not driving and the car did not belong to him, despite a witness saying they helped him out of the driver’s seat.
Tanner declined to take a field sobriety test or breathalyzer at the scene and was taken to the Benton County jail in Kennewick. There he blew well over the legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol, as measured by a breathalyzer that measured in two ways — electro-chemical and infrared, said court documents.
In the first test, he blew a 0.220% as measured by infrared and 0.225% as measured by electro-chemical at 7:36 pm In the second test at 7:41 pm, he registered a 0.232% infrared and a 0.237% electro- chemical.
Tanner could also face disciplinary proceedings from the Washington Commission on Judicial Conduct after his criminal case has concluded.
The commission told the Herald last month that Tanner self-reported the 2018 DUI, which resulted in a reprimand. It’s unclear if the current matter has been reported, but the commission will wait until after the conclusion of the criminal case to begin any proceedings.
Typically the commission reaches a disciplinary agreement with the judge, as was the case in 2018.
The reprimand included an agreement that he would meet all the criteria of his sentence, engage in public speaking appearances about the crime and refrain from repeating the behavior.
The three levels of disciplinary action that can be taken by the commission, in order of severity, are an admonition, a reprimand and censure.
In the reprimand, Tanner was warned that further legal trouble could result in undermining the integrity of the judiciary and undermine public confidence.
The commission spokesperson said past disciplinary action and the circumstances of the incident are one of a number of aggravating factors the commission considers.
With a censure, the commission can also recommend suspension to the state Supreme Court with or without pay or removal from office.
Tanner has been ordered to wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet and to have an ignition interlock device installed in his car, according to court documents.