Life Issues / Family Ethics Political Action Committee of Southwest Washington

Joel Penoyar *

2006 Washington State Court of Appeals
Candidate, Position 1

Candidate's Website Controversial 2000 Case on Child Molestation Judicial Forum Survey Responses
Constitutional Law PAC Info    

Returned LifePac Survey

1. What role do you believe a judge plays in our society and government?

The law is a framework that we the people have created through our Constitution and our elected representatives. I have been a judge for over twenty-nine years and understand the proper role of judges. Judges resolve individual disputes by applying the law. At the Court of Appeals level, where I sit as judge, we should not make the law. In fact, we are not free to do this and are bound by the rulings of the state and federal Supreme Courts.

Any person with any issue should receive a fair hearing. Partisan politics should have no role on the court. Since I have never been involved with either political party, it is second nature to me to decide cases without imposing my own political or social views..

 2. Which current or recent state Supreme Court Justices best reflect your judicial philosophy?  Please explain why.  

 I do not find it useful to follow the philosophies of individual justices.  I am not a legal philosopher, but rather a judge on the Washington State Court of Appeals.  I do not look at state or U.S. Supreme Court Justices as role models, because the work I did as a trial judge and now do at the Court of Appeals is fundamentally different.  Simply put, the Supreme Court makes precedent, and the lower courts follow it.

At the Court of Appeals, my role is to search precedents and carefully apply them.  My job is to follow the law, not make it.  My role model in this is recently retired Judge Dean Morgan, who I replaced on the court.  Judge Morgan was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the law.  He was also known for carefully crafted opinions that clarified the law, where earlier decisions left the legal waters murky.   The law needs to be clear so that individuals and businesses can get on with their affairs.                                                            

 3. If you are currently a judge, which of your recent written opinions best reflects your values and skills as a judge?

The enclosed Ottesen case best reflects my values and skills as a judge.  This case clarifies the law where previous decisions had left employers and employees uncertain.  This decision was referred to as “stunningly brilliant” in Bill Hickman’s respected Washington Insurance News Letter. The cite is Ottesen v, Food Services of America, 131 Wn. App. 310, 126 P.3d 832 (2006).

4. If you are not currently a judge, which brief or other written work youšve produced best reflects your judicial philosophy and legal skills?   

I am currently a judge.

5. According to the Ethics Advisory Committee, Opinion 90-06, judicial candidates are prohibited from discussing their personal beliefs regarding abortion.  Similar rules have been challenged and overturned in other states on First amendment grounds. Do you support the current rule prohibiting the discussion of abortion by judicial candidates?

I served on the Ethics Committee and on the Ethics Advisory Committee for the Superior Court Judges Association and the Supreme Court.  I also served on the Judicial Conduct Commission.  The “announce clause” that you reference is no longer a part of the Code of Judicial Conduct in Washington.  The Ethics Advisory Opinion that you reference is therefore outdated.  With limitations, judges may now express their opinions on disputed issues.  However, judges still may not commit, or appear to commit, themselves to issues that are likely to come before them.

6. Would you work to update Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct to allow more open debate by judicial candidates?

It has been updated. I cannot comment on any proposed further updates without knowing what they are.

7. Please state your qualifications for judicial office such as your professional, educational, family and community accomplishments.  Continue on back if more space is needed.

Unmatched Experience: Judge Joel  Penoyar has been your impartial judge for twenty-nine years. Never involved in any partisan politics, he follows the law and protects our constitutional rights. We must keep him.

Widely Endorsed: Three decades in Southwest Washington has earned him support from the majority of the State Supreme Court; Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, Firefighters, Prosecutors, Defenders, Judges, Lawyers, Unions and Businesses. Endorsed by the local  Republican and Democratic parties when appointed.

Rooted in our Community: Married thirty-three years, five children, National Champion Rower. Community leader: Scouts, Youth Soccer, Lions, Kiwanis, High School Coach, Red Cross, Volunteer Fire Fighter and First Responder.

Sheriff John Didion: “Judge Penoyar has the full support of  law enforcement officers throughout Southwest Washington…he provides a fair trial but is tough on sentencing, especially violent or sex offenders”.    

Appellate Court Judge Bridgewater reviewed Judge Penoyar’s cases for ten years: “…his reversal rate is remarkably low.”

Prosecutor Fred Johnson: “In criminal trials, Judge Penoyar always was careful to see that both sides received a fair trial.  However, once a defendant was convicted, Judge Penoyar was not hesitant to impose stiff sentences in appropriate cases, especially in cases involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of children.  As a career prosecutor, I would classify Judge Penoyar as being extremely tough on sex offenders.

Judge Penoyar is a man of character and integrity.   He is well respected by all of the attorneys that I know.  He is an asset to the Court of Appeals where he now serves”.

Endorsed by LAW (statewide sheriffs and police chiefs), State Labor Council and Liability Reform Coalition (businesses, government and non-profits),

Judge Joel Penoyar’s pledge; “I will continue using common sense and follow the law, not make it”.

 8. May LifePac post a digital image of your returned survey on its website?



LifePac Comment: Below are news articles about a child molestation case Judge Penoyar heard in the year 2000.

Judge lets child molester go fishing

By James Tedford
Nov 02, 2000

CATHLAMET --- Almost three weeks ago, a 48-year-old commercial fisherman pleaded guilty to multiple counts of child molestation in Wahkiakum County Superior Court.

The next day found David Tarabochia fishing on the Columbia River --- with the blessing of the court. ...

"The statute is very clear --- (convicted sex offenders) should not be out," said Jeremy Randolph, Lewis County prosecutor. "To play games with them, like the judge did, is bogus.

In the past five years, no convicted child sex offender in Wahkiakum County was granted release of any sort with sentencing on the horizon.  Until Tarabochia.

The Cathlamet gillnetter pleaded guilty Oct. 16 to two counts of first-degree child molestation, second-degree child molestation, and sexual exploitation of a minor --- Class A felonies, the most serious kind. [LifePac comment: Only four counts?  Incidents involving several children took place repeatedly over a seven year period.  The four counts related to only one of the children.]

 [Penoyar] said that Tarabochia could be supervised on his fishing boat, but he didn't know whether a law enforcement officer accompanied him.

Irene Asai, Wahkiakum County deputy prosecutor, argued in court against the work release but did not appeal the judge's decision.

Under Washington state law, a convicted criminal may go free pending sentencing if the individual poses no threat to the community. But according to the chapter entitled "Judgments and Sentences," convicted sex offenders --- including child molesters --- "shall be detained pending sentencing."

Does work release qualify as detention?

According to Penoyar, it does. According to Randolph and Sue Baur, interim Cowlitz County prosecutor, it doesn't. "'Detained,' in common parlance, is 'put in jail,'" Baur said. "And if you read the context of the statute, 'detained' means 'put in jail.' That is a totally mandatory statute."

The absence of a legal definition opens the law to interpretation, Randolph said. But during his 33 years of experience as a defense attorney and prosecutor, he has never encountered any ambiguity about what the law meant, he added. "Work release is giving the person a certain amount of freedom in the community, which isn't what the Legislature had in mind (with the detention law)," Randolph said. "[Penoyar] certainly didn't follow the letter of the law. His interpretation of what the law is doesn't comport with any counties that I've had dealings with."

Monday, Penoyar revoked the work release, citing the end of the commercial fishing season and police testimony that one day Tarabochia returned to jail seven and a half hours past his curfew.

for full story


Judge let confessed sex offender go [commercial] fishing

The 48-year-old man took part in commercial fishing season while awaiting sentencing last month

Monday, November 6, 2000
From The Associated Press

CATHLAMET, Wash. -- One day after David Tarabochia pleaded guilty to molesting a child, he was on the Columbia River, fishing.

A judge allowed him to take part in the commercial fishing season last month while waiting to be sentenced.

"All I can say is our office did not recommend that," Wahkiakum County Prosecutor Fred Johnson said Friday.

Superior Court Judge Joel Penoyar decided that while Tarabochia was waiting to be sentenced Dec. 4, he could take part in a work-release program that allowed him to leave jail one hour before waters opened for the day and return one hour after they closed.

Full story at:


Additional Report:

"Judges make many difficult decisions every day," he said. "I believe I've done the right thing in the cases I've heard."

In the future, Penoyar said he might again grant a pre-sentencing work release to a convicted sex offender.

"I have to consider anything the attorneys put before me. If it's a legal possibility, I'll consider it," he said.



Molester receives 10 ˝ years
By James Tedford, The Daily News
Dec 04, 2000
"Tarabochia previously admitted to drugging the victim --- a girl whom he knew --- with Tylenol PM so he could videotape her nude as he violated her. His illicit sex acts spanned seven years.

"This has been going on for so many years. People who have long, ingrained habits have a heck of a time changing them," Penoyar said.

"As his victim grew older, he did not stop his abuse of her," she said. "He videotaped those acts with her. He videotaped not only this child, but other children as well, to satisfy whatever deviant sexual desires he has."
"Sexual deviancy covers the entirety of his adult life. Videotaping of unclothed children [plural] has been a part of this defendant's lifestyle for a long time," she said. "This is a defendant who knows he's had a problem for many, many years. He has done absolutely nothing to take care of that problem."

"[Prosecutor] Asai asked for a 12-year sentence --- the maximum in the state's standard sentencing range --- because Tarabochia, she said, repeatedly flouted rules imposed on him while he awaited the judge's decision.

"He pleaded guilty Oct. 16. On the same day,
Penoyar granted him work release during daylight hours so he could fish on the Columbia River --- a privilege which Asai argued against. During the previous five years in Wahkiakum County, no convicted sex offender whose victim was a child had enjoyed any freedom pending sentencing.

"Penoyar agreed with Asai. He said he didn't know about Tarabochia's other alleged victims at the time he granted him work release.

"Although Penoyar alluded to other children who appeared in videotapes seized at Tarabochia's home, Wahkiakum County prosecutors filed charges involving only one victim."

Full report at:


Gregoire makes first judicial appointment
Sep 14, 2005
By STEPHANIE RICE, Columbian staff writer

Gov. Christine Gregoire announced the first judicial appointment of her term Tuesday at the Clark County Courthouse to a crowd of local attorneys and elected officials.

The governor named Superior Court Judge Joel Penoyar to fill a vacancy in Division Two of the Court of Appeals.

... He earned his undergraduate degree from Michigan State, a law degree from the University of Oregon and was admitted to the Washington State Bar Association in 1975. The father of five, he has also served as a volunteer firefighter.

After emphasizing the importance of putting the brightest legal minds on the bench, Gregoire said Penoyar will instill public confidence in the judiciary and be a compassionate listener.

Retrieve full story with FVRL Proquest


From Constitutional Law PAC Candidate Ratings

"The committee stressed that it is unusual for an incumbent judge to receive an unqualified rating. A study of Penoyar’s record showed he had the highest reversal rate of any judge in South West Washington. The committee’s investigation of Penoyar revealed conduct that raises serious questions about his fairness, objectivity and his ability to dispassionately adjudicate the rights of parties before him."

The CLPAC is a bi-partisan committee formed to work for the election of judges who believe in judicial restraint.

Full report at: