Ron Cox grew up in Honolulu and attended Punahou High School. His father worked as a carpenter at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, and both of his parents instilled in him the value of education and hard work.
Nominated by Hawaii Sen. Hiram Fong, Judge Cox enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1963, one of only three black cadets. At that time, only 51 black cadets had ever graduated from West Point. After graduating in 1966, Judge Cox attended Army Ranger School and Army Airborne School. In June 1968, Judge Cox was promoted to captain and assumed command in Vietnam of a 160-man company.
The experience of Judge Cox's class is recounted in Rick Atkinson's 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966. Members of the 1966 class suffered the highest casualty toll of any West Point class in the Vietnam War. Judge Cox was awarded three Bronze stars and other decorations for his military service.
After the Army, Judge Cox attended the University of Washington School of Law, a "great opportunity to get into a profession that helped people and to use my skills in a positive way," he recalled. The "single biggest factor" in choosing the UW, he said, was a one-year scholarship from the King County Bar Foundation (he later served as its president).
After earning his J.D. in 1973, Judge Cox worked at the law firm now known as K&L Gates. In 1979, Judge Cox became the first African-American partner in a large Seattle firm. Judge Cox was a greatly admired and respected lawyer and mentor. Current managing partner Rob Mitchell describes Judge Cox as "very intelligent, disciplined, and patient with quiet strength and an even temperament."
Elected to Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals in 1994, Judge Cox has served with distinction since then.
Fellow Judge Susan Agid (ret'd) aptly describes what makes him an exceptional judge. "Judge Cox's in-depth understanding of the issues each case presents and the importance of fully addressing those issues make him an excellent appellate judge. He cares deeply about the court and is willing to do whatever needs to be done to improve it. Ron brings his considerable intelligence, perspective, and sense of humor to the job. I am proud to have been his colleague."
Likewise, Judge Joseph H. Coleman (ret'd) portrays Judge Cox as "always bringing a carefully considered, thoughtful perspective to each case that he considers. A good legal mind is synonymous with a logical mind and that he possesses in abundance.
"I don't know if he was born with an efficiency gene or if that attribute is a product of West Point education, but his chambers functions with the precision of a Swiss clock. Judge Cox truly is an outstanding judge and it was my privilege to serve with him."
Appellate practitioners who frequently appear before him agree. Jim Whisman, supervising attorney for the Appellate Unit of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, lauds Judge Cox's exceptional judicial demeanor, his direct and accurate questions in argument, and his clear opinions focused on the relevant questions.
On the criminal defense side, David Koch of Nielsen, Broman & Koch (who also frequently speaks at Judge Cox's UW Appellate Advocacy class) agrees. "He is extremely well prepared in every case," Koch said. "His decisions are clear and well reasoned, and I've always appreciated the courtesy he shows counsel, regardless of whether he agrees with the legal argument."
And on the civil side, Howard Goodfriend of Smith Goodfriend sums it all up with an equally seasoned appraisal. "While it's never a good idea to ignore an appellate judge's questions at oral argument, it's particularly dangerous to ignore Judge Cox's," Goodfriend said.
"His questions go directly to the heart of the case. His opinions are crisp and well crafted, and he has a keen appreciation of the appellate court's role. Ron Cox is the consummate appellate judge. We who appear in Division One are lucky to have him."