Wash. Justice Now Admits ‘Tyrant’ Outburst During Mukasey Speech

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Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders now admits he stood and called Attorney General Michael Mukasey a “tyrant” during a speech last week, but he says some time elapsed before the attorney general collapsed.

Sanders told the Seattle Times that he spoke up after hearing Mukasey defend Bush administration practices at Guantanamo Bay and its interpretation of the reach of the Geneva Conventions.

“Frankly, everybody in the room was applauding or sometimes laughing, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to stand up and say something.’ And I did,” Sanders told the Seattle Times. “I stood up and said, ‘Tyrant,’ then I sat down again. Then I left.” He didn’t learn of Mukasey’s collapse during the Federalist Society speech until the next day.

Sanders elaborated in a statement published on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. “I believe we must speak our conscience in moments that demand it, even if we are but one voice,” he said. Sanders objected in particular to Mukasey justifying the government’s treatment of al-Qaida suspects by saying the terrorist group was not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions.

“Although the United States is a signatory, and these Conventions prohibit torture, the audience laughed,” Sanders said. “I hope those who know my jurisprudence will agree that to truly love the Constitution is to uphold it, to speak out for it, not just in times of peace and prosperity, but also in times of chaos and crisis.”

Yesterday Sanders declined to comment on reports that he stood and shouted “Tyrant! You are a tyrant,” during the speech, but said he wasn’t in the room when Mukasey fainted. Referring to reports he had “heckled” the AG, Sanders had riffed on the meaning of the term, saying a comment is not really a heckle if it was made without the speaker hearing it.

In his statement, Sanders sounded the same theme, saying he didn’t “heckle” the attorney general or disrupt the meeting.

Sanders told the Times he didn’t know if his comment would violate the Code of Judicial Conduct requiring judges to be dignified, but in any event he was engaging in free speech.

“It’s so open-ended and vague, maybe someone would think that it could apply,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t know. I think it’s a free-speech activity. In my mind this had nothing to do with my role as a judge.”

Mukasey was back at work just one day after his collapse. He said tests during an overnight hospital stay came back with good results. Sanders’ statement ends with best wishes for Mukasey’s recovery and good health.

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