February 2013 Bar Bulletin
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February 2013 Bar Bulletin

Profile / Sheryl Gordon McCloud

A Champion of Justice

By Lenell Nussbaum


Sheryl Gordon McCloud, our newest member of the Washington Supreme Court, brings many talents and strengths to her new position as justice.

In high school in New York, Gordon McCloud remembers cutting classes to visit the city's great museums. "I love the visual arts for the emotions they add to life," she explained. "Art portrays the highest strivings and yearnings of humanity."

In a career based almost exclusively on verbal skills and some of the worst experiences in humanity, this exceptional appellate lawyer used images to convey more than words alone could do. She once filed an amicus curiae brief advocating for an exceptionally low sentence to allow a criminal defendant to care for her young child.

The brief contained images of mother and child from cultures across the globe, demonstrating the universally recognized importance of the lower court's decision to help preserve the mother-child bond. "You've got to win their hearts if you want to win their minds," is her philosophy.

In law school, Gordon McCloud loved the appellate clinic program; she argued her first Ninth Circuit appeal as a law student. She clerked for Judge Warren J. Ferguson on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after graduation.

While an associate at a large firm, her former professor invited her to help write an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court. They argued California had the right to pass a law protecting women in the workplace from losing their jobs due to disability from pregnancy - and that this did not violate Title VII. Their side won.

"I always knew I wanted to pursue individual and constitutional rights," said Gordon McCloud, who graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976 and from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 1984. "I looked for the best training in those areas."

She heard the best place in the country for a young lawyer was The Defender Association in Seattle. There she was supervised by the legendary Miriam Schwartz and taught by Jan Ainsworth, now a Seattle University law professor. The trial skills she gained there led to a well-informed, private appellate practice for more than 20 years.

Gordon McCloud expanded her practice by teaching appellate advocacy at Seattle University Law School and in CLEs. She co-chaired amicus committees for the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for more than 10 years. She enjoyed selecting issues that merited amicus assistance based not on the client's popularity, but on the organizations' purposes and the long-term effect on the law.

In 2008, WACDL granted her its highest honor - the William O. Douglas Award for "extraordinary courage" in the practice of law.

King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus worked many years with Gordon McCloud. "I had the opportunity to see her craft creative legal arguments for her clients," Judge Andrus said. "I benefitted from her experience and assistance in identifying constitutional issues for my clients. I was always amazed to find such grace, wit and enormous intellect in such a small package."

Gordon McCloud's parents raised their petite daughter to believe she could be whatever she wanted. Her strength and determination belie her physical size - even Justice Charlie Wiggins towers over her in the Supreme Court's new official photo.

Suzanne Elliott, her co-chair on the WACDL Amicus Committee, recalled, "She was undergoing cancer treatment and grieving her father's death, and she was still working to save a client facing imminent execution. It didn't break her. That's a pretty strong woman." Gordon McCloud beat the cancer, stayed the execution and won a new trial for the client.

Gordon McCloud's grace and wit were most evident on the campaign trail. She loved meeting people across the state from all walks of life. People outside the big cities were especially receptive, warm and gracious.

She marched in the Lentil Festival Parade in Pullman. At the Labor Day Parade in Pacific County, people proudly insisted she see their historic courthouse and feast on their oysters. After a Sedro-Woolley chainsaw art competition, the Sno-Cone lady explained how her license cost more than she could make in a day.

Prison guards greeted Gordon McCloud at 5:30 a.m. outside Monroe in the dark and rain. She met building tradespeople after a motorcycle event concluded at the Suquamish casino. A man in a hat that said "Veteran" thanked her for her service. She nearly cried. "He's thanking me? I'm just doing what I love to do." She thanked him for his service to us all.

Gordon McCloud, who practiced in the Seattle area, will maintain her Kitsap County home. Her husband, Mike McCloud, works with special needs students at their local high school. He often had dinner waiting after long campaign days on the road. He even prepared a dinner from the Lentil Festival cookbook.

Their two sons, Aaron and Evan, helped with the campaign, but have launched their adult lives elsewhere. Gordon McCloud plans to find an apartment in Olympia for her days there and a local gym to continue her boxing. "It is good to have something I can hit hard at the end of a difficult day," she quipped.

"On our first day with Judge Ferguson, he told his clerks our cases would range from simple to complex, from Social Security appeals to civil rights to complex civil litigation and death penalty cases," she recalled. "He instructed us to treat all cases with the same level of care. What appeared to be simple cases could mean an economic death penalty for some people." She intends to give the same advice to her own clerks.

Justice Gordon McCloud, whose January 14 swearing-in created the first-ever female majority on the Supreme Court, looks forward to rolling up her sleeves and getting to work on the high court's cases. She's excited to work with and learn from her new colleagues. She wants to help open more doors to the courthouse for people who don't have a lot of money.

She loves the intellectual challenges, the issues, and the effect they will have on the people across the state - those same people whom she met all last year; the ones who elected her.


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