On August 18, 1988, King County Superior Court Judge Gary M. Little commits suicide after learning that allegations that he had abused children would run in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Little had been investigated and disciplined for inappropriate contacts with juvenile offenders, but the findings of the Commission on Judicial Conduct were kept secret. Publicity around the allegations and Little's death will result in a constitutional amendment giving Washington the most open process for the investigation and discipline of judges.
Gary M. Little graduated from Harvard University and received a law degree from the University of Washington. He worked as an admissions officer in the Seattle Juvenile Court, as an Assistant Attorney General at the University of Washington, and as counsel for the Seattle School District. He was elected to the King County Superior Court in 1980.
In October 1981, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office opened an investigation into allegations of inappropriate contact with juvenile offenders. Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sidran interviewed Little about his alleged conduct, namely that he had one child visit his home in the San Juan Islands and that another child spent the night at Little's home in Seattle after doing yard work. Little denied the latter accusation. The Commission admonished Little for inappropriate contacts with three different juvenile offenders, but the report was kept secret as required by law.
In April 1985, Little was transferred from his assignment in juvenile court when Presiding Judge Norman Quinn found that Little had more unacceptable contacts with a 14-year-old juvenile offender in Bellevue. Little had taken the boy to buy a Christmas card for the boy's father.
In a letter to The Seattle Times, Little defended his actions because, "I believe if we do not intervene in a dramatic and decisive way in the lives of these young people, they will simply graduate into the adult criminal system" (The Seattle Times). Little continued to serve as a jurist, but not hearing juvenile cases.
In 1988, Seattle Attorney Thomas Olmstead announced a run for Little's seat on the Superior Court and he made an issue of Little's history of improper contacts with juvenile offenders. Judges Terrence Carroll and Gerard Shellan publicly asked that the charges against Little be investigated. In July 1988, KING-TV ran a story about Little's behavior three years earlier. Immediately after the program aired, Little announced that he would not run for re-election and would leave the bench at the end of the year. After that, young men, former students at Lakeside School came forward with allegations of abuse by Little from 1968 to 1972.
On August 18, P-I reporter Duff Wilson informed Little that the paper would run a story about Little's abuse of children. The Seattle Times also investigated the reports. Some allegations went back to 1964 when Little was a volunteer lawyer for juvenile offenders.
A janitor found Little's body, a gun, and a note outside the judge's eighth floor chambers. The note read:
"I have chosen to take my life. It's an appropriate end to the present situation. I had hoped that my decision to withdraw from the election and leave public life would have closed the matter. Apparently these steps are not satisfactory to those who feel more is required, so be it. I will say one final time that I am proud of my efforts and accomplishments as a Superior Court Judge. I am deeply appreciative of those who have wished me well these past few weeks."
The P-I story ran the following morning.
Legislators attempted to investigate the working of the State Judicial Commission and subpoenaed Little's files. The State Supreme Court quashed the subpoena citing constitutionally based confidentiality laws. Nonetheless, the court offered two legislative leaders the opportunity to review the Little file behind closed doors.
In November 1989, voters approved a constitutional amendment opening up the process under which judges are investigated and disciplined.