Bias or misunderstanding? Judge becomes defendant

Published: Aug. 31, 2018 at 6:44 PM PDT
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It was an unusual situation, a local judge facing prosecution... witnesses... and charges in a quasi-trial setting. That's just what Wahoe Family Court Judge Chuck Weller faced Friday.

It was a short remark and a toxic phrase that put Weller in the role of the accused. In February 2017, Weller was attending a meeting of the Washoe County Domestic Violence Task Force as an unofficial liaison with the family court.

A new administration had just taken office in Washington and there was a proposal to cut funding to the Violence Against Women Act, which supports domestic violence efforts around the country.

Exactly what was said depends on who is telling the story, but it was something to the effect that women should be concerned about this proposal because it would set back women's rights, putting them back where some thought they belonged--in the kitchen and bedroom.

Weller says he was describing the motives of those forces in Washington, not his own beliefs, but some left that meeting feeling otherwise.

Within two weeks their account had gotten back to Chief Judge Patrick Flanagan, who apparently told Weller he had problem to deal with.

Weller says he apologized to all and any he may have offended and Friday once again said that interpretation of his remarks did not represent the man he was and is.

There's ample irony here.

A decade ago, Weller was shot by Reno businessman Darren Mack, who also killed Mack's wife in the aftermath of a divorce handled in Weller's court.

In the wake of that shooting, many in town believed the shooting stemmed from Weller's supposed bias against men. Yet here he was being accused of the opposite.

And the accusation was coming in the form of a formal complaint from the Domestic Violence Resource Center--formerly known as the, Committee to Aid Abused Women.

There were reasons some were inclined to think the worst of the judge. Weller had earlier remarked that the organization was perceived by some to treat male victims of domestic violence differently and suggested its very name reflected that bias.

And when the organization lost the county funding it had been given to help provide services for those victims seeking temporary protective orders against their abusers, they saw it as retaliation for their role in reporting the alleged misogynistic remark.

In the end, the prosecution told the commission Weller's remark had failed to protect the gender neutrality essential to the court.

His attorneys countered that to reach that assumption was to accept a misunderstanding and ignore Weller's record and reputation.

Regardless of the decision, Judge Weller may not emerge unscathed. Unfortunately that's often the case for anyone accused. said Weller's attorney David Houston, but that shouldn't happen in this case.

"Judge Weller should come away unscarred. He has spent his entire career proving himself to be a person who is anything other than prejudiced. In fact, he's spent his career attempting to achieve gender neutrality."

The commission made no immediate ruling. They could absolve him of the accusations or sanction him. Possible consequences range from a private or public censure to removal from office.