August 2013 Bar Bulletin
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August 2013 Bar Bulletin

How It Used To Be: Chief Justice William J. Steinert Remembered


(Last in a series)

[Editor's Note: When we left you in June, John Rupp was fondly recalling his days working for Chief Justice William J. Steinert.]

In December 2011, we concluded John Rupp's history of the Seattle-King County Bar Association. In February 2012, we launched a new series, also written by Mr. Rupp, in which he recalled his stint as one of the first law clerks to the Washington Supreme Court. Again, we present it unedited, as he wrote it. The editor wishes to thank his colleague Ken Rekow for discovering this old jewel and dusting it off for publication in these pages. The story begins in 1937. Enjoy.

Judge Steinert scrawled his signature on letters to inmates because he didn't want his real signature circulating among "those artists over there."

Fairly frequently the mail from Walla Walla would bring a petition for habeas corpus from a penitentiary prisoner. (Judge Steinert would say, "I know what he wants; he wants out.")

Almost always these petitions were handwritten, and there would be only one copy. So the first step was a letter from the Chief Justice informing the petitioner that the Court rule required ten copies. There weren't any photocopying machines then, but pretty soon back would come the necessary copies, each carefully writ by hand.

Then the matter would go on the motion calendar. Judge Steinert had a very legible signature, but his letters to the penitentiary inmates were signed with an illegible scrawl. He explained to me that he didn't care to have his regular signature circulating among "those artists over there."

I don't know why I should think of this right now, but suddenly I remember a couple of Judge Steinert's sartorial peculiarities. Everyone wore vests in those days - the vest disappeared during the Second World War, along with pants cuffs, to save cloth.

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