SEATTLE - Fred Bonner, a former Seattle Municipal Court judge, admitted that for more than a decade he improperly received a discounted parking rate that he was not entitled to, according to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Bonner claimed he was carpooling and first received the discounted rate in January 2004, saving between $70 and $140 each month going forward -- at the expense of taxpayers who elected him.
He stopped using the discounted rate in August 2014, days before a KIRO 7 investigation showed he violated city regulations.
KIRO 7 followed Bonner for months, watching him drive to work alone. When confronted and asked about his conduct, Bonner lied multiple times.
He also refused to give the names of the carpool participants he claimed to have.
Bonner told the state commission he was wrong to receive the carpool benefit, violating a rule that said "a judge shall comply with the law, including the Code of Judicial Conduct."
Another of the rules he violated states that a judge "shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety."
The commission wrote that the paramount consideration was the nature of Bonner's misconduct.
"Misconduct involving dishonesty substantially undermines public confidence in (the) Respondent's integrity, and consequently diminishes respect for the judiciary in general," the commission's order of censure wrote of Bonner.
Bonner, who lost his re-election bid after the KIRO 7 investigation and retired, agreed to not hold or seek any judicial office without getting approval from the commission.
He also agreed to reimburse the city of the Seattle within one year for the amount he unfairly saved with the discounted carpool rate.
The exact amount is not included in the order of censure, but the amount is in the thousands.
During the August 2014 investigation, KIRO 7 talked to Mike Estey, manager of the city parking operations and traffic, and asked if he had any idea how the department could have no record of Bonner’s carpool application or names of any person in Bonner’s carpool.
“I don’t,” he said. “I wish I did.”
When KIRO 7 told Bonner that he never provided names of people he carpooled with, the judge asked, “Well then why did they authorize it?”
That’s a question Seattle transportation officials then asked themselves.
“I think we as a city probably want to go back and check and re-check and make sure everybody who’s participating in the program is fully certified,” Estey said last year.
It’s not clear how they’ll do that, or how the city could prove that someone isn’t lying to save hundreds per month on city parking fees. A violation could result in cancellation of a permit, an impounded vehicle -- or a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
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KIRO 7's investigation of Fred Bonner won a 2015 Emmy Award for Politics/Government reporting from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Follow this link to watch the Bonner investigation.
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