Was the Judge who Threw Out Initiative-297 Really Unbiased?

US District Judge Alan McDonald in Yakima yesterday threw out I-297 . I-297 was passed by Washington voters in 2004 to require that current radioactive and toxic waste at Hanford be cleanup before new waste is brought in.

But is there more to the story than just the ruling on the law? Just what is the background of Judge Alan Angus McDonald – a Reagan appointee to the Federal District Court in Yakima.

The Seattle Times in a March 12, 2003 article reported that McDonald withdraw from a 13 year old lawsuit regarding downwind radiation from Hanford because of a conflict of interest. The reason was , “Old McDonald had a farm” I kid you not.
According to the Seattle Times:

In October 1999, McDonald and his partners in Chiawana Orchards bought land in Ringold, Franklin County, across the Columbia River from Hanford.

In May 2001, McDonald and his partners applied to Northwest Farm Credit Services in Pasco for a $12 million line of credit, using the land as collateral and signing statements that the orchard was free of radiation contamination.

To make such a statement “requires a core conviction by Judge McDonald that no long-lasting contamination of the properties will ever be proved,” Seattle attorney Tom Foulds wrote late last year in his motion to recuse.

By definition, this is a prejudgment concerning one of the critical issues in the case.” Judicial conduct codes call for judges to recuse themselves from cases if they could reasonably be perceived by the public to be lacking in impartiality or if they have a direct financial interest in a case.

Likewise in this case one could argue that if McDonald supported the state’s position it would be some type of acknowledgement, that leaks through groudwater or the air of radioactive waste was a potential problem. By defering to the Federal Government, saying they have jurisdiction over radioactive waste at Hanford, it by default accepts the Federal Government’s position that they have everything under control and that it is OK to bring more radioactive waste into Washington state before they clean up the current toxic and radioactive leaks.

Hanford, which is in the Tri-Cities area of eastern Washington State was the site where plutonium was made for the bomb that was used on Nagasaki, Japan at the end of WWII. At that time radioactive waste was dumped in unlined trenches in the desert land and little effort was made to control radioactive emissions from the smokestacks.

Articles printed in scientific journals noted the presence of increased amounts of radioactive materials traveling down the Columbia River and showing up at the mouth of the Columbia River. Weapons grade Plutonium was made for many years at Hanford.

The High Country News on 2/16/2004 in an article on jurisdiction shopping for anti-environmental judges, in addition noted the following about cases handled by Judge Alan Angus McDonald:

1991 — when a worker at the federal Hanford nuclear-weapons site complained he was harassed for raising safety concerns, McDonald ruled that federal law doesn’t protect whistle-blowers at federal nuclear sites
1993 — in a massive case in which thousands of downwind residents exposed to radioactive releases from Hanford sued Hanford contractors, ruled the contractors did not have to pay for medical tests (appeals court disagreed) 1994 — ordered that a scientific review finding flaws in the government’s assessment of Hanford’s downwind radioactivity should not be available to the public (another judge disagreed and made the criticism public, nine years later)
1996 — ruled that uranium tailings are not covered by the Clean Water Act and EPA regulations (appeals court agreed)
1998 and 1999 — in two sweeping rulings, dismissed most of the health-related claims of about 5,500Hanford downwinders against Hanford contractors, and rejected 17 scientific experts the downwinders wanted to testify (appeals court reinstated all the claims and the experts in 2002)
2000 — reporter Karen Dorn Steele of the Spokesman-Review revealed that for years, Judge McDonald had been passing racist notes (including insults to “greasers” and blacks) back and forth with his courtroom deputy while court was in session; fellow judges in the judicial council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reprimanded McDonald for conduct that “could reasonably be interpreted as reflecting bias”

Justice Alan McDonald was first appointed to the Federal Court by President Ronald Reagan.

Comments are closed.