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Blocked by prosecutors, Seattle judge reassigned to parking and traffic tickets

caption: Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi was elected to the bench in 2022.
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Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi was elected to the bench in 2022.
City of Seattle

A Seattle judge who recently came under fire from city prosecutors has been reassigned. KUOW has learned that Judge Pooja Vaddadi will focus on parking tickets and traffic infractions instead of criminal cases.

A spokesperson for Seattle Municipal Court said Thursday that Judge Vaddadi will remain in this role as long as the Seattle City Attorney’s Office continues to file affidavits disqualifying her from future criminal cases.

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Earlier this month, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison said her office will seek to exclude Vaddadi from all future criminal cases after encountering “a pattern of biased rulings.”

A memo from Davison's office stated, “The resounding input from attorneys that have appeared in [Judge Vaddadi’s] courtroom believe that her decisions demonstrate a complete lack of understanding, or perhaps even intentional disregard, of the evidence rules, even on basic issues.”

In an interview with KUOW, Judge Vaddadi, speaking on her own behalf and not for the court, denied any bias and said Davison never raised those concerns before seeking to have her disqualified.

“That’s why it did come as a surprise because in my head, in my heart, I have been impartial in every way that I have approached each case that comes in front of me,” Vaddadi said. “I only look at the facts before me, I only look at the law, and I do my balancing with community safety and what’s best for the defendant that’s in front of me.”

She said the criminal division of the city attorney's office has not supplied the case numbers that would allow her to examine the rulings they object to, but she would welcome the chance to discuss those concerns. In the meantime Vaddadi said handling parking tickets and traffic infractions is the best way to ease the strain on the court created by the city attorney’s actions.

“Technically it’s not a demotion, honestly I wouldn’t consider it one anyway,” Vaddadi said. “And judges in other jurisdictions do cover infractions so it’s not outside of what a judge does.”

Vaddadi said Seattle Municipal Court is somewhat unique in that parking tickets and traffic infractions are usually handled by appointed magistrates rather than by elected judges. But some of those magistrates may now be assigned to criminal cases to rebalance the workload.

“I really just want to help the best way that I can here,” Vaddadi said. “I would love to sit in my own courtroom to do the criminal cases that I’ve been elected to do. But ultimately I am a part of the court and – I don’t want to just be sitting around doing nothing.”

The city attorney disputes Vaddadi's version of events. A spokesperson for Davison's office told KUOW that Vaddadi was given prior warnings about concerns related to her performance. "At least one of the conversations – in which specific concerns were raised – took place in August of last year," Tim Robinson, communications manager for the Seattle City Attorney's Office, wrote in an email to KUOW.

Experts say prosecutors and defense lawyers routinely file "affidavits of prejudice" to disqualify judges from individual cases. But it’s a rare step to block a judge from all criminal matters.

This week, the court announced the response from the municipal court’s Presiding Judge Faye Chess.

“Under court rules, the Presiding Judge has reassigned Judge Vaddadi to handle traffic infractions and parking tickets since she is unable to hear criminal cases in formal court due to the affidavits,” court spokesperson Gary Ireland said.

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office, as well as the King County Department of Public Defense, declined to comment on the judge’s reassignment.

Prior to her election to the bench in 2022, Vaddadi worked for seven years as a public defender and practiced in Seattle Municipal and King County Superior Courts.

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This post was updated on 3/22/24 with Judge Vaddadi's response to the reassignment announcement, and on 3/25/24 with a comment on her statement from the Seattle City Attorney's Office.

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