October 2014 Bar Bulletin
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From the Desk of the Presiding Judge

What Happens at Judicial Conference ...

By Judge Susan Craighead


As I write I am ensconced in a safari-themed hotel room (right down to the leopard-print chaise lounge) in Spokane. The 56th Annual Judicial Conference has wound down for the day and soon we will gather in small groups for dinner (not to exceed $28 per person).

For most judges, the two conferences we attend are among the year's highlights - no matter the decor or the weather. The fall conference includes all levels of court, from the smallest municipal courts to the Supreme Court. This is a great opportunity to cross-pollinate across jurisdictional lines. Ideas that might seem obvious solutions in a big county like ours may be ineffective in smaller places. Sometimes Eastern Washington counties have seen more litigation about issues such as those involving new marijuana businesses than we have seen in King County. They can help us foretell what might come our way.

Trial courts have the chance to help appellate judges understand the practical implications of some of their decisions. Truth be told, however, we are much more apt to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court for multiple opinions and inconsistent holdings than we are our own Supreme Court sitting right there in the audience.

At the spring Superior Court Judges Association conference we are less restrained. It's just us, so we can let our hair down and our tongues fly. It's not that we're disrespectful; just frustrated sometimes. Anticipating and implementing the Washington Supreme Court's open courts jurisprudence is both difficult and risky. One wrong choice by the trial court (even in the absence of a motion by a party) can result in reversal. So, yes, we sometimes vent.

Fall conference offers opportunities to talk with the justices about systemic problems in the hopes we can develop a solution together. Today, Justice Steven Gonzalez steered me toward the Interpreter Commission for help with a problem, something that had not heretofore occurred to me. We can warn Court of Appeals judges about a bubble of terminations of parental rights headed their way once the attorney general's new lawyers are finally able to start litigating the cases.

At conferences that involve all levels of court, it is sometimes difficult to identify legal issues with which we are all grappling. Still, the U.S. Supreme Court's Confrontation Clause jurisprudence puzzles us all. It seems like we revisit the topic annually to take stock of the latest contradictory twists and turns. The fall conference often addresses broad themes, such as poverty, race and, this year, neuroscience and the law. Saving the best for last, Wednesday morning's session nearly always covers the past year's developments in constitutional law and previews coming attractions. This year's speaker is Kathleen Sullivan, a former professor of mine who now litigates before the U.S. Supreme Court in private practice. I wonder if she'll remember me.

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