THE WILLIAM L. DWYER OUTSTANDING JURIST AWARD
honors a lifetime of achievement and service as a judge in a court with jurisdiction including King County.
The Honorable H. Joseph Coleman, Washington Court of Appeals, Division One
Many people have said that Judge H. Joseph Coleman is "a judge’s judge." And while it is true that his
devotion to the rule of law and belief in the importance of an independent judiciary are hallmarks of his
career, that is only one facet of his character. Joe also has great insight into and compassion for people, the
courage to handle difficult cases and situations honestly and, to quote his friend Superior Court Judge Paris
Kallas, "great wisdom and a vibrant love of life."
Judge Coleman is a native of Washington. Raised in Bickelton, he got both his undergraduate and law
degrees at the University of Washington. After clerking for Supreme Court Justice Matthew Hill, he worked
in private and public practice before becoming Legal Advisor to the Seattle Police Department. In 1976,
he was elected to the King County Superior Court. While there, he was Chief Criminal Judge, elected to
the Executive Committee and the Board of the Superior Court Judges’ Association, and was appointed by
Governor Spellman to the initial Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
Perhaps his most difficult task as a trial judge was presiding over Chemical Bank v. Washington Public
Power Supply System in which nearly one hundred parties and their attorneys participated. It involved the
largest default on municipal bonds in history.
In 1984, Judge Coleman was appointed to the Division I of the Court of Appeals. He served as Presiding
Chief Judge, Chief Judge, Vice Chair of the Board for Judicial Administration, Chair of the Gender and
Justice Task Force, and was a long-time member of the Judicial Conduct Commission. As an appellate
judge, Joe continued to epitomize the best in judging, never losing sight of the challenges and role of the
trial judge. Former Superior Court Judge Larry Jordan and Jim Verellen worked closely with Judge Coleman
for many years as Commissioners on Division I. Judge Jordan describes him as "consistently demonstrating
strength of character, fairness, and problem-solving. He decides cases based firmly on the rule of law and
its application to the facts of the case, always keeping in mind future ramifications of the legal principles."
While his over-1400 opinions will have a lasting effect on the law of our state, perhaps his most enduring
accomplishment is in the values he implanted on the court and teaches others. Joe is a mentor to countless
judges and lawyers. One cannot talk to him without being infected with what former Justice Rosselle Pekelis,
who served with him on the trial and appellate courts, described as his "fair-mindedness, passion for the
law, and never-ending enthusiasm." She summarized what many think. "Joe never lost his freshness and
excitement about the law. He was my mentor on both courts." And as Judge Lasnik said, "When judges get
together and talk about who they admire, Joe Coleman’s name always comes up. He is a role model for
many trial and appellate judges throughout the state." Judge Bill Dwyer would no doubt agree.