Washington court officials are searching for a new judge to handle the Scott Gallina sexual misconduct trial in Asotin County after the fifth judicial officer assigned to the case disqualified himself Tuesday.
During an online hearing, Yakima County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Swan granted the attorney general’s request for a new judge, saying it was within the law for state prosecutors to seek removal of a judge who had not made any discretionary rulings in the case.
Swan’s decision to step down will likely cause another delay in the trial, which has been put on the back burner numerous times since Gallina, a former judge for Asotin, Garfield and Columbia counties, was charged in 2019 for second-degree rape, indecent liberties and third-degree assaults with sexual motivations. The felony charges stem from police interviews with two former co-workers, and Gallina has denied any wrongdoing.
At this point, the 57-year-old Clarkston resident is expected to get his day in court sometime in 2022, but a trial date will not be finalized until a new judge is appointed.
Swan said he had “no intention” of making any discretionary rulings when he presided over a status hearing earlier this month. Nothing of substance or importance to the case was determined, Swan said, which paved the way for granting Seattle attorney Melanie Tratnik’s motion to disqualify him.
In a criminal case, each party gets one opportunity to remove a judge, without questions, as long as no discretionary rulings have been made. The defense used the same law to disqualify a Walla Walla County judge last spring.
To date, Spokane County Judge Michael Price, Asotin County Judge Brooke Burns, Walla Walla County judges Scott Wolfram and Brandon Johnson have recused themselves or been removed, along with Swan.
The Administrative Office of the Courts, based in Olympia, is now tasked with finding another judicial officer to handle the trial, which will take place in Asotin County and is expected to take several weeks and require hundreds of jury summons.
Swan said his court administrator went to work immediately when the Yakima County judge was asked to preside, and his staff did everything it could to make hearings happen in a timely fashion. In addition, he spoke with two former judges who emphasized the need for a resolution without further delay. He thanked the county clerks and others who have devoted time to the Gallina case.
“We did a lot of work on this matter,” Swan told the attorneys. “Good luck to you all.”
Sandaine may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.