May 2014 Bar Bulletin
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From the Desk of the Presiding Judge

Bench Features Many New Faces

By Judge Susan Craighead

 

Nationally we have heard foreboding talk for years about the coming wave of Baby Boomer retirements. Well, that wave is in the midst of crashing over King County Superior Court's bow. It seems that every few weeks we are welcoming a new judge and saying goodbye to an old friend. So far on my watch this year, we are awaiting our fifth new judge.

Six and a half years ago, I was Governor Chris Gregoire's first King County appointment after a long drought. I remember then-Judge Steven González breathing a sigh of relief when I arrived at age 43, because finally he would not be the youngest judge on our bench. When our latest, yet-to-be-appointed judge arrives in the next few weeks, we will have brought on 26 new judges since September 2007. That means half our judges will have turned over in seven years.

The impact of this turnover cannot be overstated. Losing Judge Deborah Fleck and Judge Joan DuBuque significantly depleted our supply of judges with deep family law experience, for example. Judge DuBuque served as the court's informal historian (I swear she kept a copy of the minutes of every committee meeting for the past decade) and an able budget chair during the Great Recession. She helped educate our bench and the legal community about domestic violence.

Judge Michael Hayden's departure at the end of 2013 cost us a very experienced and productive criminal trial judge who could ably try any case he was assigned and manage his civil cases efficiently.

Wisdom comes in many forms. Our brand new judges bring it in the door with them - developed through years of practice, life experience, and facing uncommon challenges. Judge John Ruhl joined the court April 1 after an entire career of civil practice and extensive service to the KCBA. Judge Tanya Thorp, who joined our bench May 1, is a first-generation college graduate who rose to a respected assignment in the Attorney General's Office.

And yet, there is no substitute for having seen it all. Newer judges rely on those who have been around for many years when unusual or very difficult situations arise. Taped inside my bench is the advice retired Judge Sharon Armstrong once gave me about controlling obstreperous lawyers: "You are Zeus," it says.


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