Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Judge McDermott Stepping Down from the Bench

December 2017 Bar Bulletin

By Judge Andrea Darvas

Judge Richard McDermott

After more than 17 years on the King County Superior Court bench, Judge Richard McDermott is retiring on January 1. Judge McDermott was appointed to the King County Superior Court by Gov. Gary Locke on March 2, 2000. During his time on the bench, Judge McDermott served as King County Superior Court’s presiding judge from 2013–15.

He also served as president of the Washington State Superior Court Judges Association from 2008–09, as chair of the Washington State Board for Court Education from 2006–08, on numerous other committees for the SCJA, and on the Washington Minorities and Justice Commission. In 2010, Judge McDermott was named “Co-Judge of the Year” by the Washington State Bar Association. In May 2011 he was named “Judge of the Year” by the Washington State Association for Justice. In November 2013 he was named “Judge of the Year” by the Washington State Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

Judge McDermott’s roots in our community run deep. He attended Seattle Prep in the early 1960s, where he was active in the debate program. He received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude in 1970 from Seattle University, where he was student body president from 1969–70. He earned his law degree from the University of Washington School of Law in 1973.

Judge McDermott began his career as a deputy prosecutor in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office until 1976 and then worked as a public defender until 1978 before entering private practice in Bellevue.

He met his wife, Susan, when she served as a juror on a trial when he was a public defender. Reportedly, he was immediately smitten, but of course he was unable to do anything about it. However, the feeling apparently was mutual, because after the trial was over and the jury had been discharged, he asked her out to lunch to "talk about the case" he had lost, and the romance was able to blossom. They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary earlier this year, and they have been blessed with three children (one became a lawyer), and two grandchildren.

In prviate practice Judge McDermott was a trial lawyer, concentrating on personal injury law on behalf of plaintiffs. He served as vice president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association in 1993–94 and as a member of WSTLA’s Board of Governors from 1982–86 and 1990–94. He was recognized as one of Washington’s “Super Lawyers” by Washington Law & Politics Magazine in 1999.

Judge McDermott has always loved teaching. He has been an adjunct professor at Seattle University’s School of Law since 1999; he teaches professional responsibility (ethics) to second- and third-year law students; and he received the “Outstanding Faculty” award from SU’s December 2004 graduating class.

As a member of the judiciary, Judge McDermott is known for his love of the law, his passion for civil liberties, and his deep belief in the rights of everyone to have full access to justice. He inspired new lawyers to aspire to the highest ideals of our profession. As one lawyer who was sworn in by Judge McDermott wrote, “In his remarks in the swearing-in ceremony, he praised the ideals of the civil justice system, where ‘the most humble individual can stand toe to toe against the mightiest of corporations, and obtain justice.’ That quote continues to inspire me.”

Another lawyer described Judge McDermott thusly: “He is a man who has consistently demonstrated remarkable preparation, dedication, fairness, experience and leadership. He has received many honors, awards and accolades, and has deserved all of them and accepted them with humility.”

As another member of the bar said, “Judge McDermott has a great deal of respect and empathy for the practicing bar, and conducts his courtroom with respect for all litigants. He is tremendously even-handed and encourages resolution rather than litigation, but he is not afraid to make a decision.”

A criminal lawyer remarked, “He sentenced the convicted when he had to, but he got no joy from it. He always made you feel that you had been heard, even when you lost.”

Despite his serious approach to legal and constitutional principles, Judge McDermott never lost his good humor. When he covered the arraignments, bond hearings and trial assignments calendar in Courtroom GA at the MRJC, Judge McDermott felt that the culture in GA had become a bit too informal, and decided that he had to orchestrate a change. So he told the (male) lawyers that he would not be able to hear what they were saying if they were not wearing a tie. People started dressing more professionally in short order.

Besides the law and his family, Judge McDermott has two other passions: golf and Starbucks. His many friends, who love and respect him, all describe his golf game as less than inspiring. One longtime friend described Judge McDermott as a “serious, but not a very good golfer who often tried to talk his way to a better score.” This lawyer gave the following example of Judge McDermott’s advocacy: “[Judge] Burdell and I were standing behind Dick as he was hitting his drive, which as was typical went careening off into the rough. Dick turned to us and with a straight face demanded a mulligan because our presence behind him was distracting.”

The attorney who described Judge McDermott’s humble acceptance of all of his well-deserved awards and accolades, had this to say about the judge’s victory in the East King County Bar Association’s 2012 golf tournament:

Somehow, miraculously and unbelievably, he pulled that off and has not let any of us forget it ever since. Whether in private conversations, just before or after court, or while lecturing at CLE seminars, Dick “Arnold Palmer” McDermott never passes up the opportunity to mention it. If he has not shown you his picture holding the cup in his chambers, then you have caught him in a distracted moment.... A number of our fellow attorney golfers think that once the Judge is retired, he will have more time to practice his golf and likely lead his team to another victory in the EKCBA Tournament, but in reality we all know that is simply never going to happen. Therefore, my advice to his Honor is to stop dreaming about it and spend your time more wisely by writing a book or lecturing about anything, except golf.

Like his love of golf, Judge McDermott’s passion for Starbucks is legendary, especially in and around the MRJC. He is frequently spotted walking down to the local Starbucks, a couple of blocks from the courthouse. The baristas there all know him by name and know his coffee order by heart. His longtime bailiff described an incident where she told counsel who were waiting for a hearing to start that they would be starting “in a couple of minutes,” only to have one of the lawyers remark that he didn’t think so, as he had just passed Judge McDermott walking toward Starbucks as the lawyer was heading toward the courthouse.

Judge McDermott himself is anticipating new adventures and experiences. He looks forward to spending more time with his wife — whom he describes as “my best friend” — and his children and grandchildren. He reports that his grandfather taught him how to throw a baseball and he looks forward to passing that on to his grandchildren. He and Susan also plan to travel more.

However, Judge McDermott isn’t ready to stop working altogether. He is joining the arbitration and mediation team at JAMS. He would like to be involved with motivational speaking. He also plans to advocate for making the justice system better serve the needs of those who don’t come from the ranks of the wealthy and powerful.

In Judge McDermott’s own words:

I want to find new and unique ways to make a positive difference for people. We live in times that emphasize the disparity of wealth between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” I want to find a way to use my experience to make things in the legal system better for the “have-nots.” I want to get involved in assisting people who are self-represented. The justice system is difficult for those who have attorneys. Think how difficult it is for those who do not!!

As for his reflections on his many years of service on the bench, Judge McDermott says, “Being a judge is the greatest honor I could have ever imagined. It is something I will be forever grateful for and proud of.”

Our bench will be a poorer place without Judge Richard McDermott. We will miss him greatly, but I for one am also looking forward to seeing the fruits of his hard work and public service in this next phase of his life. 

Editor's Note:  This online version updates the print edition, clarifying that Judge McDermott was a public defender, not a prosecutor, when he met his wife.

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