November 2022 Bar Bulletin
By Kinnon Williams
For Erin Overbey nothing is out of reach if she puts her mind to it including becoming an honorary line worker.
It’s not often that an attorney receives an honorary degree and even more unusual that an attorney would be distinguished as an honorary line worker by Seattle Public Utilities but that is exactly what happened to Erin Overbey. Of course, anyone who has ever worked with Erin wouldn’t be surprised.
Described by colleagues as trusted, measured, and thoughtful, Erin has served as the top legal advisor to the King County Sheriff since 2018. Originally appointed as General Counsel by then-elected Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, Erin retained her role as General Counsel while the Sheriff’s Office transitioned from an elected position to one appointed by the King County Council. Current Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall refers to Erin as a “consummate professional” and someone she heavily relies on.
A 1986 graduate of Oregon State University, Erin earned her Juris Doctorate with Honors from Lewis and Clark Law School in 1992 before relocating to Seattle. Erin began her legal career in private practice at the firm of Williams and Williams representing a wide variety of clients including numerous Special Purpose Districts. This gave Erin a solid foundation in a wide spectrum of legal issues, including labor and employment law. A few years after beginning to concentrate her efforts on labor and employment issues, Erin joined the Seattle City Attorney’s Office in the Employment Division in 2001 handling a variety of cases, including everything from sexual orientation discrimination to whistle blower claims. After working her way up to Senior Assistant Attorney in 2013 Erin made the career move to the King County Prosecutor’s Office, where she was eventually selected as General Counsel by the King County Sheriff.
While many people only know Erin in her present role and for her work with the King County Bar Association, as with any skilled professional there was a lot of hard work getting to where she is today. Her early years were spent driving up and down I-5 attending public meetings, meeting with clients, and attending hearings. Refusing to choose between family and career, Erin didn’t allow motherhood to derail her career, deftly being excellent at both at the same time. A bassinet and eventually a small play pen were fixtures in her office. It was also during these early years that Erin began honing her trial skills, becoming a model advocate in skill and professionalism. These early experiences led to her becoming an integral member of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.
When Erin joined the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Employment Division she immediately dove in, handling a variety of cases, including everything from sexual orientation discrimination to whistle blower claims. Marylin Sheridan, Erin’s supervisor in the City Attorney’s Employment Division recalls:
I first met Erin when she interviewed for a position as an Assistant City Attorney in the Seattle City Attorney’s office. My initial impression was that Erin was smart, witty, and ready to litigate. Once hired, Erin proved to be a talented, tenacious litigator who was always professional; she treated everyone — even rude, condescending opposing counsel — with respect.
Ms. Sheridan describes Erin as “the consummate work colleague.”
She was often the first in and last to leave the office and always offered to assist when others had work conflicts. Erin always seemed to know when to step in to offer a hilarious quip to relieve work stress; her timing was always impeccable. Most important, Erin is a quiet dynamo in every aspect of her life; she proves she’s an excellent attorney by producing top quality work. If she takes on a task, she’ll see it through completion; she doesn’t shy away from hard work.
Impressing everyone even to the top of the organization, former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran, describes Erin as an “outstanding lawyer” who “had the complete confidence of her clients” it is no wonder that during Erin’s tenure at the City Attorney’s Office that she became an “Honorary” Line Worker.
Being one of the “Go To” attorneys in the Employment Division, Erin was called upon to defend a disciplinary action made by Seattle Public Utilities. To defend the disciplinary action Erin needed to understand the job of a line worker. It was imperative that she could explain to a jury why certain decisions made by an electrical line supervisor made the difference between safe and dangerous practices. This required that she not only understand the decision-making process but the science as well. By the time of trial, Erin had developed a working knowledge of what a Line Worker does. Following a successful defense verdict, Erin was declared to be an “Honorary Line Worker” by Seattle Public Utility staff.
Erin explained to me: “Every case is like receiving a new education. Having the opportunity to work with so many different agencies really gives me some great insights into how governments work. I am learning something new every day.”
Having established herself as a successful trial attorney Erin pivoted her career and in 2013 began a new role with the King County Prosecutors Office. It wasn’t long after that Erin was selected to become the General Counsel for the King County Sheriff’s Office. Although originally appointed by the elected sheriff, Mitzi Johanknecht, Erin has remained in her role as General Counsel for the Sheriff’s Office through the transition to Patti Cole-Tindall the newly appointed Sheriff. Now confronting the rapidly changing landscape in law enforcement, Erin is now on point to address issues such as demands for increased services at the courthouse, changes to policing techniques, greater community oversight, and an overall reduction in staffing. All challenges we as a community face together.
No matter how busy Erin is, however, she has always found time to give back. Much of her early volunteer work centered around her children. Now much of her volunteer work is with KCBA. Erin, presently serving as Second Vice President, has led several committees and previously served on the Board. Described by former KCBA President Jennifer Payseno as “insightful” and “someone you can always count on,” Erin is universally recognized for her quiet leadership. Fellow KCBA member Mike Wampold observes: “Erin is incredibly thoughtful and uses words sparely. Because of that combination, no one misses a word she says. She is the quintessential quiet leader and is incredibly effective.” Sidney Tribe describes Erin as “brilliant, insightful, a great communicator, and a pleasure to work with.” And Shawn Larsen-Bright refers to her as a “natural leader” and “a role model.”
Behind every top-notch leader is a team, and many of those team members are leaders as well. Erin is one of those people. For all of us living and working in King County we are fortunate that Erin has chosen to be a team member and leader at KCBA and the Sheriff’s Office, during what most of consider to be interesting and challenging times.
May we all live in interesting times and may we all have someone as steady as Erin Overbey to both lead us and be our teammate.
Kinnon Williams is Of Counsel to the firm Foster Garvey where he confines his practice to the law of eminent domain, easements, and municipal law.