Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile / Dan Kilpatric: Blazing a Trail

Profile / Dan Kilpatric: Blazing a Trail

May 2019 Bar Bulletin

By Judge George Finkle (Ret.)

“What’s a nice young man like you doing with a radical outfit like the ACLU?” demanded a Superior Court judge whom a boyish Dan Kilpatric had just served with a complaint attacking Snohomish County Jail conditions.

The ACLU complaint was based on Dan’s investigation the summer before he entered law school in 1973, which revealed that jail guards had deliberately caused sewers to back up into the “hole” where troublesome inmates were housed. The suit resulted in a federal court consent decree requiring jail reforms, including closure of the hole. As Bob Free (later a notable Seattle immigration attorney), who worked with Dan on the case observes, “Not a bad way to start law school!”

Dan, his older brother Mike, and his younger sister Shawn, represented the fourth generation of Kilpatrics in Chico, California. Dan’s great-grandfather Davis preached hellfire and brimstone in gold-mining camps during the late 1800s. His grandfather S.S. owned a string of independent groceries in Northern California until he was driven out of business by Safeway in the early 1960s.

Dan’s father Bill modeled intellectual curiosity, often rising at 5 a.m. to study Tillich’s Systemic Theology and other dense works before heading to his business, Kilpatric’s Toy Town. Dan’s mother Cass demonstrated healthy skepticism, routinely responding to claims of authority, “That’s what the big boys say.”

The Kilpatric clan owned a compound of modest cabins in the Sierras near the Wells Fargo Trail. There, Dan and Mike earned many of the merit badges that led to their achieving Eagle Scout rank, and with their sister Shawn (now a National Parks executive stationed at Crater Lake) developed an enduring love of wild spaces. (Mike, who became a PR executive, died of ALS several years ago.)

In 1968, Dan graduated from Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, where he was an exceptional student, was elected class president, and lettered in football, track and tennis. Dan had never seen a man with long hair until, as a high school senior, he attended a Quicksilver Messenger concert at the Silver Dollar Fair, after which for many years he shunned haircuts.

Dan next headed to Stanford University, where he majored in psychology, receiving his B.A. the same month in 1972 that his father received a B.A. in psychology from Chico State. While at Stanford, Dan was active in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, including a key sit-in at the Applied Electronics Laboratory, and floated to Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin concerts at San Francisco’s Filmore West.

After graduating, Dan spent another year at Stanford as a cognitive psychology research assistant. He was on the road to a psychology Ph.D. and an academic career when he visited the UW on a glorious spring day, with cherry trees in bloom, unaware that Seattle’s winter gloom had just ended. He immediately resolved to attend the UW School of Law.

During his three years at the UW, Dan was one of 25 select law students from around the U.S. who participated in a six-month Georgetown Law School “Rule 9” criminal law training program. He also co-authored a Washington Law Review article, “Discretion in Felony Sentencing,” which explored racial bias in King County Superior Court sentencings.

After graduating in 1976 from UW Law, Dan was hired by the Seattle-
King County Public Defender. Kate Pflaumer, later the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, teamed up with Dan to launch a “4-2-4” program, in which three attorneys successfully shared two caseloads: four months on, two off, receiving two-thirds pay. Pflaumer observes, “Dan was a wonderful lawyer, always sensitive to his clients’ wishes.”

Former King County Superior Court Judge Holly Hill, also a Defender attorney with Dan, recalls, “Dan was a star. The extraordinary thing about Dan was that he made the work seem effortless, and he always had a smile on his face.”

Ron Kessler, another Defender attorney who also became a Superior Court judge, remembers Dan as “a vigorous and effective public defender, who inspired and mentored newer lawyers with his legal acumen, control of the courtroom and sense of humor, hilariously pillorying judges (of course, only those who deserved it).”

Defender lore has it that during one stretch, Dan won 12 straight felony acquittals or dismissals.

After leaving the Defender, Dan joined King Davidson & Czeisler (now Davidson, Kilpatric & Krisloc), which had been founded by attorneys Mary and Al King in sleepy 1930s Kirkland. There, Dan earned a reputation as a talented and honorable plaintiffs’ personal injury advocate. His law partner and real estate guru, Ken Davidson, notes that from his earliest days at the firm, Dan’s work was marked by careful preparation, including mastery of the details of his clients’ medical treatment, which was not always welcome when he displayed surgical photos at lunchtime to illustrate his arguments.

Six years ago, Dan’s son Dylan joined his practice. From their collaboration, Dylan says he learned “the importance of dogged hard work, how crucial a fascination with science and medical procedures is, and that telling our client’s story is a privilege. Those are lessons I am grateful to have learned from my law partner and indebted to my father for teaching me.”

Dan has devoted enormous professional energy to pro bono work. His mother’s rough experiences as a childhood-abuse victim inspired Dan’s commitment to the Eastside Legal Assistance Program. Loretta Story, a collaborative law practitioner who served for many years on the ELAP Board with Dan, credits much of that organization’s success to his efforts: “Dan is a quiet doer. He never said too much, but always got the job done.”

In Seattle v. Mesiani, 110 Wn.2d 454 (1988), Dan represented a group of plaintiffs, including Marsha Pechman (now a senior U.S. District Court judge) and Steve Fury (a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates), who had been stopped at Seattle Police Department sobriety checkpoints during the 1983–84 holiday season without individualized suspicion or probable cause. The state Supreme Court barred the checkpoints, holding that they violated privacy rights guaranteed by Article 1, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution, as well as the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Dan was a National Institute of Trial Advocacy instructor for 20 years, often working with Holly Hill: “Whenever I asked him to volunteer his time to train young lawyers in the NITA program, he stepped right up and generously participated, sharing his insights as a successful trial lawyer with those at the beginning of their careers.” Andy McCarthy (a recovered San Francisco litigator, now a Seattle Prep teacher) recalls Dan’s generous work with Prep’s mock trial team beginning in the early 2000s: “It was an extraordinary gift of his time and talent. He is a superb teacher.”

As of this all weren’t enough, Dan has served as a KCBA trustee and a Trial News editor.

Around the date of each birthday, until he turned 60, Dan ran the 2.8-mile Green Lake loop in well under 20 minutes, followed by 50 pushups. (He’s still running hard, but with slightly less impressive times.)

Dan also is a founding 20-year member of a men’s book club, and known to his bookish friends for his lively mind and futile promotion of obscure neuroscience texts. For many years, Dan has maintained a daily outdoor meditation practice, ignoring rain and snow, if not leaf blowers.

Dan is married to Colleen Kinerk, herself a force of nature in the bar and elsewhere (see June 2018 Bar Bulletin Profile). Dan’s other son, Connor, is a UW MBA graduate, now working in the Seattle tech industry.

Dan’s only requested copy for this Profile: “I forgot to mention how deeply grateful I am for the support and love of my friends, my family, and my community.” 

George Finkle is a former King County Superior Court judge, now an arbitrator at Judicial Dispute Resolution. He met Dan Kilpatric when they were raw attorneys at the Defender.


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