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Monday, June 5, 2006 - Page updated at 10:55 AM

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Your Courts, Their Secrets

Unsealed: A judge's secret, a therapist's odd methods

Seattle Times staff reporters

Last month we got two cases unsealed, after showing how the sealing orders were flawed. In each instance the judge who sealed the file agreed to open it up, without requiring us to file a formal motion.

Dean Lum, chief civil judge of King County Superior Court, opened the first case three weeks ago. Richard Eadie, the Superior Court's presiding judge from 2002 until this year, opened the second one last week.

Unsealed case No. 1:

A judge conceals his mistake

Richard Bathum became a King County judge in July 2000. Five months later, he was sued for legal malpractice. Bathum, by his own admission, had screwed up one of his last cases as a lawyer.

The lawsuit accused Bathum of being "gravely and seriously negligent." For a judge, such language could be embarrassing, particularly come election time. But Bathum found a way to keep the public from reading it.

He got the file sealed. It was easy to do.

Beginning in 1999, Bathum represented a family that had leased an Enumclaw dairy farm. The farm's owner was suing, saying the family had damaged the property.

Three times before trial, Bathum missed important deadlines for disclosing what evidence he planned to use. As a result, he wasn't allowed to present much of the family's case to the jury.

In June 2000, the jury hammered Bathum's clients, ordering them to pay $176,000.

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The next month, Bathum was appointed a King County District Court judge. He has since kept that job by winning two elections.

In December 2000, the family sued Bathum. Three months later, Bathum's lawyer, Sam B. Franklin, filed a three-sentence motion to seal the whole file. He attached a document saying Bathum was now a sitting judge and believed certain allegations in the lawsuit "would cast him in a false light."

Judge Lum sealed the file. His one-sentence order — the only document that would be available to the public — doesn't say why secrecy is needed. It says nothing about Bathum being a judge.

Franklin said in an interview that he considered the sealing request "relatively routine." It wasn't the first time he'd made that request while defending a lawyer, he said.

Bathum said he doesn't remember why he wanted the file sealed. But in a telephone interview he said:

Of himself: "I'm a good judge and a nice guy."

Of the three missed deadlines: "It was an unfortunate mistake by me, and I take full responsibility for it."

Of getting the file sealed: "I'd like to talk you out of writing that article."

As a judge, Bathum has been assigned at times to handle cases in Superior Court. There, he has sealed at least seven lawsuits in their entirety. But he said that isn't many considering he has presided over thousands of cases: "It's not like I'm sitting here with a rubber stamp."

Unsealed case No. 2:

Visions of repressed abuse

Luther Frerichs, an Enumclaw doctor, is a defendant in three medical-malpractice lawsuits that have been sealed. Last week Judge Eadie opened this one up:

In 1997, a woman sued Frerichs and John Laughlin, a physician assistant who was conducting psychotherapy on patients. Frerichs supervised Laughlin at the Enumclaw Medical Center and had sponsored him when he became a physician assistant, court records say.

The woman said she went to Laughlin for "feelings of fatigue." He diagnosed her as the victim of multiple-personality disorder and repressed childhood sexual abuse — neither of which was true, she said. She accused Laughlin of malpractice and Frerichs of negligent supervision.

The parties settled and, in 1999, got the lawsuit sealed after Frerichs' attorney claimed there was "no legitimate public interest" in the case. But there was a public interest — and it was plenty legitimate. Other women had also accused Laughlin of malpractice, saying he had induced false memories of sexual abuse and involvement in a satanic cult. One woman claimed Laughlin had offered to perform an exorcism because "evil had been programmed into her," state records show.

The state put Laughlin on probation and ordered him to stop using hypnosis. He now practices in Chelan. Frerichs, state records show, has never been disciplined.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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