As of last January, 55-year-old homeless drug addict Francisco Calderon had been convicted 72 times for various offenses including 14 different assaults. The offense which brought him to court for the 73rd time was similar:
It’s a mid-November afternoon at the corner of Broadway and East Pine on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Mat Xavier is minding his own business, listening to music on his headphones when a man he doesn’t know, punches him in the mouth.
“I was shocked — I was suckered punched by this man,” Xavier said. “The man didn’t appear to have any real motive.”
Xavier suffered a bloodied lip, but had the wits about him to record on his smartphone his assailant wandering the corner. He called 911 and police arrested his attacker without any issues.
Calderon was arrested and pleaded guilty before Judge Ed McKenna. City Attorney Pete Holmes and Department of Public Defense Director Anita Khandelwal agreed to a plea deal in Calderon’s case. He would get time served plus two years of probation and drug treatment. Judge McKenna asked the City Attorney to reconsider the deal but Holmes felt probation was sufficient.
And that’s when something pretty unusual happened, at least by the standards of the Seattle justice system. Instead of going along with the plea deal, Judge McKenna threw the book at Calderon. “I’m not sure I have ever seen a more significant history of violent offenses,” McKenna said of Calderon’s long record. He added, “Everything in that criminal history tells me that he’s a violent offender and is going to re-offend.” To protect the citizens of Seattle Judge McKenna rejected the plea deal and gave Calderon the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor assault: 364 days in jail. That was in January of 2019.
For what it’s worth, Calderon’s own sister said Judge McKenna, “made the right decision.” But City Attorney Holmes and Public Defense Director Khandelwal were outraged at having their plea deal rejected. In April of 2019 they co-wrote a letter accusing Judge McKenna of violating the canon of judicial ethics. Specifically, the letter claimed that McKenna had invited a reporter from the station that ran the “Seattle is Dying” special and a member of the group Speak Out Seattle which advocates for tougher treatment of homeless people to court in order to witness the sentencing of Calderon. Holmes and Khandelwal claimed it was part of a premeditated media stunt and asked Judge McKenna to step aside as the presiding judge of the court.
McKenna refused to step aside and the two individuals who were in court that day both denied they had spoken to or been given any heads up from Judge McKenna in advance. The situation was so absurd that the Seattle Times published an editorial criticizing the attack on Judge McKenna for doing his job. But it seems that wasn’t the end of the story. Today, KOMO news reports that after McKenna’s refusal to step aside the city’s public defenders began a quiet, months-long campaign designed to prevent McKenna from hearing cases.
KOMO News went into municipal court records and found what appeared to be coordinated attempt by public defense attorneys immediately after the letter was issued on April 24 to block McKenna from hearing any cases.
Defendants and their attorneys can file an Affidavit of Prejudice that blocks a judge from hearing a case. A defendant is given one attempt at doing so per case and no reason needs to be given…
In April, when the letter was filed, the number for McKenna shot up to 68 versus 13 for the other judges. In May, it shot up even higher to 128 compared to 15 for the other judges. In June is was 48 to 8, July was 71 to 14 but in August, it dropped to 7 for McKenna versus 9 for the other judges, and in September it was just one challenge to McKenna versus 11 for the other six judges, and remained fairly low and consistent the remainder of the year.
It was in August that KOMO News began making requests for an interview with Khandelwal about the apparent increase in Affidavits against McKenna. Her spokesperson, Leslie Brown repeatedly denied our request to interview Khandelwal, telling us in one email, “Anita cannot nor does not try to influence an attorney’s legal strategy.”
I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that this campaign to prevent the judge from taking cases ended right when KOMO News began asking questions. None of the public defenders who had filed the Affidavits of Prejudice would respond to KOMO News or offer an explanation for their behavior. “I think the timing is highly suspect,” Judge McKenna said.
Judge McKenna was so upset about the false accusation made against him that he filed a formal complaint against himself:
“Almost immediately, I reported their allegations to the Commission on Judicial Conduct,” McKenna said.
What followed was a confidential investigation by the commission that lasted several months. Because of commission rules, McKenna was not allowed to speak about the investigation he had launched on himself…
The commission is an independent agency of the judicial branch of state government charged with enforcing the Code of Judicial Conduct. The commission sent McKenna a letter on September 11 saying the complaint he filed against himself was dismissed.
In other words, the claim that he’d set up some kind of media stunt was baseless. Of course it’s true there was a media stunt happening in connection with this case, it was the bogus letter sent by the City Attorney and the Director of Public Defense to defend an absurd plea deal for a man who’d already been convicted of 73 crimes. And speaking of Francisco Calderon, KOMO has this little addendum on his status:
Since that January 2019 conviction, Calderon has been convicted twice more, bringing his total to 75.
I don’t know but I suspect Calderon is already back on the street. There’s a video report on this at KOMO News but it doesn’t seem to be embedding properly so you’ll have to click over to see it.