It had been my hope to begin my term as presiding judge with a clever and engaging column that would have folks looking forward to future pieces. Unfortunately, due to a confluence of factors, including water damage requiring a temporary move out of our house, finishing up a caseload while learning the ropes of the new administrative position and preparing for the holidays, I was fortunate to simply meet the deadline.
2017 brings change to King County Superior Court. This column touches on the incoming judges, judicial rotations and the changes with regards to our judicial calendars. Coinciding with the presidential election, every four years the entire state’s Superior Court bench stands for election. This year was remarkable for the record number of judicial retirements given the election in King County. As a result, we welcome seven new judges who will begin their terms on January 9.
Additionally, judicial rotations occur for the rest of the bench. Because ours is a court of general jurisdiction, our court’s policy expects all judges to have expertise and be able to preside over all calendars. Rotations every several years help to accomplish that.
You were alerted in Judge Susan Craighead’s past presiding judge columns that due to the county budget shortfall, the court was forced to reduce the number of court commissioners. As a result, judges will be handling some calendars that were previously covered by commissioners. This includes the dependency review calendars at the Maleng Regional Justice Center and the King County Courthouse. One of the two judicial officers sitting in the Ex Parte Department in Seattle will be a judge. Another judge will “ride circuit” handling Dependency Treatment Court, at-risk youth, truancy, and Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) review calendars in both Kent and Seattle.
Knowing that lawyers are always interested in the background of the judge to whom their case is assigned, I asked each newly elected judge to provide a brief synopsis of their legal experience. I address them alphabetically. (Please see the Profile on page 6 further introducing you to the new judges.)
Judge David Keenan comes to the bench from a civil practice focused on securities and complex commercial litigation. Prior to becoming an attorney, he spent nearly 16 years as a federal law enforcement agent, most recently investigating financial crimes, and has also served as a special deputy prosecutor. In 2016 he was the board president of the Northwest Justice Project and the Federal Bar Association.
Judge Nicole Gaines Phelps began her practice in Seattle practicing family law. She served more than six years in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, later as short-term contract attorney doing public defense work, and since 2008 has served as an administrative law judge for a variety of agencies through the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings. She has also presided in King County District Court as a pro tem judge.
Judge John McHale comes back to the court where he began his legal career in 1990 as a law clerk/bailiff with Judge Terrance Carroll. From there he moved into criminal law, first with the public defender’s office and then as a deputy prosecutor in King County. His civil experience began in the civil division of the prosecutor’s office, and most recently in private practice where he focused on litigation.
Judge Catherine Moore’s legal background includes trial and appellate public defense in criminal and civil commitment and dependency matters, and juvenile and family law. She has also served as a pro tem judicial officer. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she is a past member of the WSBA Board of Governors and served as chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.
Judge Kristin Richardson was a newspaper reporter for four years before heading to law school. She’s been with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for 27 years, where she headed the Cold Case Homicide Unit. She has tried more than 100 jury trials in King County Superior Court. Most recently she has gained civil experience working in the office’s civil division.
Judge Steve Rosen began his legal career in 1998 as a deputy with the Pierce County prosecutor’s office. He moved to the Attorney General’s Office with the Sexual Predator Unit. In 2003, he opened the Rosen Law Firm, where he practiced for seven years. Since 2008, he has served as a municipal court judge, first in Black Diamond, and then five years with Seattle Municipal Court.
Judge Matt Williams comes to Superior Court from six years in King County District Court. His practice since 1983 consisted of work as a trial lawyer and managing attorney for various government and private sector law offices, including the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and a national insurance carrier. He is a regular teacher of trial advocacy at Seattle University and NITA. His off-bench activities are devoted to the rule of law and anti-corruption initiatives around the world.
The incoming judges started their training on December 1, when they met at the court for a full day. They were measured for robes, met with administrative staff and judicial leadership. They determined their seniority by lot. Seniority in the court affects only one thing — the order in which a judge picks his or her courtroom.
After being officially sworn in on January 9, the judges will spend the week participating in further training with sitting judges. A variety of topics will be covered. The use of interpreters in the courtroom, sealing court records and fundamentals of different calendars are just some examples. Those judges who will begin their rotations on the Unified Family Court calendar will also participate in a three-day UFC training later in January with the other judges rotating onto that calendar.
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