The phrase "a man of many parts" aptly applies to James (Jim) S. Turner, president of the King County Bar Association in 1983–84. In his 81 years, Jim led an active life, not only in the law, his chosen profession, but in other pursuits. His achievements were attained in his position or role as a community leader, politician, actor, author, skier, marathon runner, mountain climber and sailor. He suffered a fatal heart attack on January 24 doing what he loved: running.
A graduate of the University of Washington Law School in 1955, Jim initially gained experience with a veteran personal injury lawyer, Jack Gose, for a year. The next three years he was an assistant attorney general trying workers' comp cases, before returning to private practice with Williams, Kinnear and Sharpe. After nine years there, he moved to Roberts & Shefelman. He specialized in complex litigation and personal injury work. In July 1981, he hung out his shingle as a solo practitioner in Bellevue. Two years later he was elected president of the KCBA.
At the start of his term as president, Jim emphasized several of the goals that the Board's annual planning retreat had identified, and he directed his considerable energy and advocacy to them. The courts were underfunded and severely backlogged, and the legal needs of too many of our citizens were not being met.
He was a strong advocate for the adoption of the IOLTA rule by the Washington Supreme Court and which at that time, as remarkable as it may now seem, was a controversial issue. He admitted that when he had first heard of the proposal, his "reaction was cool," but after looking into it, he concluded:
IOLTA offers a unique opportunity to raise money to support legal services and other desperately needed programs, without any costs or burdens to lawyers or clients.
Jim pushed for greater funding of Volunteer Legal Services and Lawyer Referral and Information Services. He backed the King County Superior Court's Early Disposition Program, a two-day intensive settlement program in which 19 judges and 63 lawyers as judges held 192 settlement conferences in which about 400 lawyers (as advocates) represented approximately 500 parties.
The high cost of litigation was of special concern to Jim, and he called attention to the need to modify the discovery process, especially the cost of depositions. He wrote in the Bar Bulletin:
I also feel that the way the cases are tried, especially the protracted disputes, must be streamlined. There is always a better way to do it. Nothing we do today may be valid tomorrow. Although the law itself should not be subject to frequent and dramatic change, our court and court-related information gathering procedures (discovery) should be ever scrutinized.... We must re-examine our traditional ways of providing basic legal services, or gathering information, and of trying cases.
In one of his columns in the Bar Bulletin, Jim called attention to what he termed verbosity in legal writing and urged lawyers to eliminate traditional legal colloquialisms in their briefs. His concern about reducing court congestion led him to organize the KCBA Section on Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Jim's commitment to the bar was not limited to the King County Bar Association. He was elected to the Board of Governors of the Washington State Bar Association for a three-year term beginning in September 1987, where his voice was often heard on issues that ranged from community service to reducing the cost of legal services.
Jim had a lighter side; he enjoyed practical jokes. Paul Strittmatter, one of his classmates on the BOG, recalls a parody by the outgoing governors of the Johnny Carson "Carnac" skit, in which a sealed envelope was held to the forehead and then opened, containing the question to the answer previously given. Jim, dressed in drag, brought down the house with his impersonation of Betty Bracelin, a former WSBA president. He also took particular delight in playing the role of "The Cardinal" in an episode of the "Northern Exposure" television series. In addition to his enjoyment of the theater and acting, he published in 2007 a novel, A Promise Not Kept.
Jim was a leader in his local community of Beaux Arts, where he devoted many hours on the Town Council, serving as its mayor, and as beach master of the Western Academy of Beaux Arts.
Jim was physically active all of his life. He was an avid skier and took pride in skiing 64 consecutive years. Jogging took many hours and he completed one marathon, which he wisely concluded was enough. At the age of 64, he climbed Mt. Rainier.
Sailing was another hobby. On Wednesday evenings, he was on the water competing in the Beaux Arts Racing Fleet (BARF). Somehow he found time for other activities, including the Seattle YMCA and the Y's Men's Club and Town Club. He served as president of the College Club.
Jim was proud of his profession. In a column in the Bar Bulletin about the Early Disposition Program he wrote:
This kind of effort and the quality of work by all panelists and by the lawyers who participated in the EDP fortifies my firm belief that the bench and bar of King County are the equal, if not the best, of any in our land.
The problems of unmet legal needs, the high cost of litigation and insufficient funding of the courts are with us today. They may never be resolved. Jim Turner devoted his time, energy and talent to working on them, and we owe him our thanks and gratitude for what he did.
Jim's life was a full one. His family and friends will greatly miss him.