June 2015 Bar Bulletin
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June 2015 Bar Bulletin

William L. Dwyer Outstanding Jurist: Judge Marsha Pechman

By Vanessa Soriano Power


There weren't a lot of options if you were a smart girl who didn't type. Weighing those options, young Marsha Pechman traded the fields of Sumner, Washington, for Cornell University and got a degree in clinical psychology. That understanding of the human condition has served her well. We are lucky she chose the law.

Now Judge Marsha Pechman, chief judge for the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, has a breadth of experience reflecting that she is perfectly suited to the job. Judge Pechman has been a prosecutor, a public defender, a professor of clinical law and a civil litigator. Before being appointed to the federal bench, Judge Pechman also served as a King County Superior Court judge for more than 12 years.

After graduating from Cornell, Judge Pechman entered law school at Boston University with an awareness that the law is a tool for change. During college, Judge Pechman watched "This Child is Rated X," a documentary exposing gross inequities in the juvenile justice system. She became a volunteer juvenile probation officer and honed her insight into the structural, systemic issues in play in every case.

Improving the legal system is an ongoing challenge that Judge Pechman has embraced. She introduced the struck jury system in King County. She was one of the first judges to chair the individual calendaring project in King County Superior Court. And she was the first judge to hear some of the most difficult family law cases in the Unified Family Court.

Harry Schneider, who has tried three cases before her, describes Judge Pechman as a highly skilled judge with a "wonderful judicial temperament" who "goes out of her way to let jurors and the public - not just counsel and the parties - know how our legal system functions, why the Rule of Law is paramount, and how vitally important the role of jurors is in our constitutional system of justice."

Viewing herself as a perpetual student, Judge Pechman takes joy in learning something new each day. Former law clerk David Ward recalls Judge Pechman telling counsel "you're the teacher, I'm the student," and "approaching cases with an open mind, reading everything the parties submit, and giving counsel every chance to educate her before she makes a decision."

Kendra Nickel-Nguy calls Judge Pechman an "amazing mentor" who "guides you in a way that makes you feel valued and confident, while challenging you to think critically and at the next level." Nickel-Nguy says she is "eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to start my career as a lawyer in her chambers; I know I will be a better lawyer and a better person because of it."

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