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A judge and a reporter work together to clarify the gray areas of the law

Jennifer Wing
Retired King County Superior Court, Judge Ronald Kessler and Seattle TImes Reporter, Christine Clarridge in the Belltown Studios of 88.5 KNKX NPR.


This story originally aired on March 10, 2018.

Sometimes, our legal system can be a confusing mash up of laws and paperwork. The people whose job it is to sort through all of this to find some clarity are judges. Sometimes, they make decisions that aren’t very popular. One of these cases happened in Seattle, back in March, 2013.


King County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler made the decision to not detain a man in jail for failing to register as a sex offender. Not too long after the sex offender left the courthouse, he was accused of raping a woman.


Seattle Times reporter, Christine Clarridge, wrote a story about this, which on the surface seemed to be pretty cut and dry: a judge made the wrong call and a horrible crime was committed.


Judge Kessler told Clarridge, “I was sorry I was wrong in predicting his behavior in the future, which is what I had sort of had done. But at the time I did what I thought was the right thing to do. I followed the law and that was essentially the conversation.”


Clarridge wrote down what Judge Kessler said, “I put it in the story. I thought I was even handed and fair in my reporting and writing. I thought the article was reasonable. Then, I went to bed and the next day everything kind of blew up,” said Clarridge.  


What appeared to be a simple article about how one mistake possibly led to a serious crime, turned out to be quite complicated.


In this story, hear how a reporter and a judge set aside hurt feelings to work together to clarify the grey areas of our legal system.  


Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.