Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

In Memoriam — Judge Joan DuBuque: A Court Leader and Champion of the Vulnerable

September 2017 Bar Bulletin

By Judge Deborah Fleck (ret.)

Judge Joan DubuqueWhen Joan DuBuque was appointed to the King County Superior Court bench in November 1989, she already had a fine reputation as a judicial officer. In fact, practitioners held her in awe when she served as a family law commissioner from January 1984 until her judicial appointment.

With hundreds of pages to read and absorb, she gave her logically constructed oral decisions, often referring to declarations and orders filed in earlier hearings. We all wondered, how in the world does she do that? She kept notes and clearly had reviewed them when the case came before her again some months down the road. As attorneys, we knew we needed to be on our toes.

King County Superior Court Chief Administrative Officer Paul Sherfey marveled at Judge DuBuque’s 30 years of service on the King County Superior Court bench:

Judge DuBuque championed many causes, most significantly focusing on children and families, always working to improve and provide effective justice system solutions for our most vulnerable. Her keen intellect, amazing memory and her energetic passion were present in all her many leadership roles in our court. Even after leaving our bench, she remained involved and in contact, suggesting further improvements in our courts’ processes, always focused on improving services for victims and the most vulnerable in our community.

Judge DuBuque graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1974. She received her Juris Doctor cum laude in 1977 from the University of Puget Sound (now the Seattle University) School of Law. She served as an assistance deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, handling interstate child support enforcement, non-support and paternity cases.

She was in private practice for five years with an emphasis on domestic relations, personal injury, real property and small-business representation. During that time, she participated in the Country Doctor Volunteer Lawyers Clinic and worked with the Northwest Women’s Law Center. Judge DuBuque was recognized in 2003 with the Judge of the Year Award by Washington Women Lawyers for her work in Unified Family Court. In 2005, Joan was also recognized with the Washington State Bar Association’s Champion of Justice Award.

Judge DuBuque was a highly effective leader on the King County Superior Court. She served as the chief judge of the Unified Family Court and for a decade led a coalition addressing the difficult issue of domestic violence. “Judge Joan DuBuque worked tirelessly to improve the Superior Court’s ability to handle cases involving children and families,” recalled former Presiding Judge Michael Trickey, now serving on the Court of Appeals.

Jorene Reiber, director of Family Court Operations, remembered Judge DuBuque’s work — and her impact:

She served as the regional co-chair of the DV/CPS Child Maltreatment effort from its inception in 2004 until 2014. Under her leadership, [an interdisciplinary group] came together to create guidelines for an effective, coordinated response to DV and child abuse/neglect in our region. [Their work product], the Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Coordinated Response Guideline, has served as the backbone for improved and coordinated services to families.

Her years of collaboration and commitment to the families served in our court provide an impressive legacy for this strong, courageous judge.

Judge DuBuque understood that serving as a judge involved far more than sitting on the bench hearing cases. Administering a large urban court of 53 judges and up to a dozen commissioners takes a tremendous amount of effort — by judicial officers as well as staff. Joan chaired and/or served on no less than 18 of the Court’s committees — likely an historical record. She served in all court departments and presided over high-profile cases including those involving the death penalty, giving every case, large or small, her careful attention.

She always made time to mentor new judges. “When I came to the bench, no one was more generous with their time and wisdom than Joan,” said Judge Lori-Kay Smith. Retired Judge Harry McCarthy recalls:

I will miss her warmth, humor and her generous mentoring. She was not only an outstanding judge, but she represented the institutional memory of the court. I listened in awe at judges’ meetings to her explanations of historic policy and tales of how the court functioned in earlier times. She was a great teacher, particularly in family law, for new judges like myself who had no background in that most important part of the Court’s business. Above all, I will miss her charm and her wisdom.

Justice Faith Ireland remembers that “Joan always went the extra mile to serve and lead.” When he was still a practicing attorney, retired Judge Michael Fox remembers watching Joan on the family law motions calendar, always dignified and decisive. “That’s the kind of judge I want to be,” he thought. “I never quite got there.” He remembers her as his friend and hard-working colleague: “She was the best among us.”

Judge DuBuque retired in May 2014 and passed away on July 24. Her only child, Tom Reanier, returned to Seattle from his home in California to be with her and at times care for her during the last four years of her life. They were able to take a number of trips together to the national parks in the west including the Grand Canyon, which they both thoroughly enjoyed. Joan loved Husky football and Irish literature, and was an avid birdwatcher, a passion she was able to pursue on her trips with her son.

“There was no stronger advocate than Joan for the Court, the people who worked there or the community we served,” recalled Court of Appeals Judge Michael Spearman. Former Presiding Judge Dick McDermott remembers that Judge DuBuque was always willing to take difficult assignments, noting that she performed superbly as a Superior Court judge. Simply put, he states, “Judge Joan DuBuque was an icon on our court.”

It was an honor and a privilege for those of us on the bench to serve with Joan and a pleasure to know her. She was also a valued friend to many in the bar and the community. Joan was an incredibly bright and logical thinker, with good judgment and a compassionate heart — just the right combination to be an excellent judge. I can think of no greater compliment to a judge — one that fits Judge Joan DuBuque to a T.

You served justice well, Your Honor. 

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