May 2022 Bar Bulletin
By Judge Mary Roberts
Presiding Judge Patrick Oishi asked me to fill in for him this month and to describe a bit about what the King County Superior Court APJ does.
My primary duty as APJ is to fill in for Judge Oishi when he is unavailable. As of late, that means I will almost certainly be called upon to announce another departure from and appointment to our bench. We most recently celebrated the retirement of Judge John Ruhl at the end of April. Judge Ruhl was appointed to the King County Superior Court bench in April of 2014 by Governor Jay Inslee. Judge Ruhl served at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, as the Involuntary Treatment Court Judge, and most recently in the Criminal Department at the King County Court House. Superior Court thanks him for his dedication to the Court and the litigants of King County and wishes him well on his new adventure.
On April 11, the Governor appointed Commissioner and Judge Pro Tempore Matt Lapin to succeed Judge Ruhl. Commissioner Lapin practiced for many years as a senior criminal deputy in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and then in private practice as a criminal defense attorney. Since last Fall he has served as a commissioner and judge pro tempore with the Court, handling resentencing and other issues raised by the Blake, decision, and covering criminal calendars in order to free up judges to preside over the trial backlog. His work in the community includes volunteering with a food bank and a social services non-profit. Commissioner Lapin earned his BA in history from Princeton University, where he was a star basketball player. It is worth searching for the photo of the bleachers full of fans waving their “Senior on a Stick,” posters of the future judge nicknamed, “Slapper.” Commissioner Lapin received his JD at the University of Miami School of Law, cum laude. We are excited to have Judge Lapin join us and hope you all will extend him a warm welcome to the bench.
As APJ, a major assignment is to co-chair the court’s Education and Training Committee. My capable co-chair is Judge David Keenan. With our constantly evolving bench, and the many changes triggered by the pandemic, we are revamping our onboarding approach for new judges and bailiffs, and have increased regular on-going training.
Judge Oishi reported earlier about our intense and successful three-day training in January which we expect to be an annual event. We have just finalized the programming for our upcoming first judicial retreat in June. We will be focusing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for a half-day. Other topics include the history and future of sentencing, cybersecurity, and trial management. We will also take the opportunity to spend time together; eleven new judges have joined our bench during the pandemic and in many cases we have not had the opportunity to meet each other, let alone spend quality time together.
The Education and Training Committee members are each also expected to write a “monthly tip,” addressing something timely, and we host monthly “lunch and learn” sessions that frequently include members of the bar, on a wide variety of legal topics suggested by the judges. Members of the bar are encouraged to suggest topics for monthly tips and monthly lunch and learn sessions.
Finally, we have also focused this year on training judge/bailiff teams with the goal of addressing consistency among the 54 judicial departments.
When I am not attending to APJ duties, I serve as the lead judge for the King County Drug Diversion Court (KCDDC). This has been a dramatic change both professionally, and personally. I am happy to take this opportunity to sing the program’s praises just as Governor Inslee signed a proclamation proclaiming May 2022 as Drug Court Month. The KCDDC program was started in 1994, by the late Norm Maleng and then King County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Martinez (now a U.S. District Court judge). At the time of its founding, KCDDC was the twelfth drug court in the country; there are now drug courts in each state and over 3,000 nationally. The KCDDC provides eligible defendants charged with certain felonies the opportunity for substance use disorder and mental health treatment and access to services such as housing, transportation and job skills training. The participants come before the judge regularly to discuss their progress. Upon successful graduation, their charges are dismissed. This is the “good news,” part of being a judge. We had the honor and pleasure in April of welcoming White House Drug Policy General Counsel Robert Kent to speak at our monthly drug court graduation ceremony. Mr. Kent joined us in celebrating the success of several graduates, who have rebuilt their lives through a program of accountability and compassion. Sharing the ups and downs and ultimate successes of the participants has been for me moving and rewarding. I am encouraged each day by watching a program that works. I look forward to our return to in-person hearings in May.
No report from the court would be complete without a mention of COVID. The Court continues to require masking in court rooms and all public-facing Court areas. King County has lifted its mask mandate for the rest of the courthouse areas, but most who come to the courthouses are on court business, so continue to mask even outside court areas. We have been pleased with the compliance. We also continue to conduct jury selection in all jury trials via Zoom. At any given time there are now more than ten serious criminal jury trials underway in person at the King County Courthouse and at the Maleng Regional Justice Center. Civil jury trials continue to be conducted entirely by Zoom. Bench trials have continued virtually for the entirety of the pandemic. Judge Oishi and I, together with members of our Public Health Committee and others in court leadership, continue to meet every two weeks with public health experts at the University of Washington who advise us on how best to keep our staff, litigants, and members of the public safe while attending to court business.
I appreciate the opportunity to address the members of the King County Bar Association in Judge Oishi’s stead. Working as his second and in service to all 53 of my judicial colleagues for the past four months has been some of the most rewarding work in my nearly 19 years on the bench. We are as a whole dedicated to continuing the access to justice that has been the guiding principle throughout our tenure, never more critically than over the past two plus years. The incredible fortitude of the judicial officers and staff at the Court as well as those stake-holders who interact with us on a daily basis leaves me certain this will continue.