Who is Virginia Amato? Judge slammed for telling man he was going 'to be Bubba's new girlfriend'
A King County District Court judge was admonished by the state Commission for her remarks from the bench that a defendant would be raped in prison if he did not change his behavior. Judge Virginia Amato faced a huge backlash and criticism for her comments which she made last August. She reportedly told the unnamed defendant that he was on his way "to be Bubba's new best girlfriend in the state penitentiary".
Judge Amato was elected in November 2018 and presided over the arraignment of a man charged with misdemeanor domestic violence assault and resisting arrest last August, says the stipulation, agreement, and order of admonishment signed June 24 by the commission’s executive director, J Reiko Callner. According to the order, Amato noted the man’s alleged crimes had been committed while he was on probation on other matters before imposing conditions of release.
"That may hopefully give you a graphic image to think about… And if you think I'm kidding, I'm not," the judge said, according to a complaint. The defendant said that he understood what she was saying while the judge added, "The folks at the penitentiary have mothers and sisters and nieces and cousins that they do not want someone out there abusing." She warned, "And they will take that out on you, at the penitentiary. So think about that because you're racking up felonies at this point."
Although further details of the defendant's criminal past have not been shared and the outcome of the case is also unclear, it was said that the man had no prior felony charges and it would be almost impossible to put him to jail by the judge even if he was convicted. A confidential complaint was filed in October with the commission, which is responsible for reviewing and acting on complaints of judicial misconduct, and Amato was served with a statement of allegations in December, the order says. It is not clear though who spoke against Amato's remarks.
The judge confirmed that she made the statements in the complaint but she defended her actions by saying that whatever she told the defendant was out of goodwill as she wanted him to change his behavior and it was not personal. “While insensitive and thoughtless, were not motivated by bias or ill-will toward the defendant,” she said. Regardless of her purported intent, the Conduct Commission ruled that Amato violated Washington requirements that judges maintain 'integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.'
“The seriousness of the charges and their potential consequences could and should have been communicated by the judge without implying that a defendant may be raped in prison if he continued his unlawful behavior,” the order says. “The words and images chosen were improper, discourteous and unbecoming of a judicial officer. They were degrading to the defendant and other incarcerated people, playing on stereotypes and exploiting fears of the criminal justice system.” According to the order, the comment made by Amato was particularly found inappropriate and irrational during the arraignment of the case where the defendant was presumed innocent. Amato sought counsel from more senior judges, the order says, and she agreed to participate in a one-hour ethics training about courtroom decorum.