December 2011 Bar Bulletin
 
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December 2011 Bar Bulletin

SIDEBAR with

Hon. Betty J. Fletcher

 

On June 17, KCBA Executive Director Andrew Prazuch sat down with Hon. Betty Fletcher, senior circuit judge of the Ninth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, and talked about her experience as the first female president of the King County Bar Association.

Andrew Prazuch: How did you first become aware of the KCBA?

Betty Fletcher: I graduated from University of Washington in 1956, and it seems to me that when we were sworn in there was a representative of what we then called the Seattle Bar Association. We talked a bit about the local bar association and the importance of lawyers, and particularly young lawyers getting themselves involved with the local bar. And then Charles Horowitz, who was a partner in a law firm where I had gotten a job, was very active in the bar and was soon going to be president of the Bar Association, so that there was no way anybody in our office could avoid becoming active in the bar.

AP: So what do you remember the bar was doing at that point?

BF: Well, the bar was small, I think we had maybe 1,200 lawyers, no more than that, there was a weekly luncheon and at that weekly luncheon they had a lawyer that would talk about recent cases that had been decided at any level; any topic that was current; sometimes there wasn't anything formal, nobody had arranged to get anybody to speak and so we just informally chatted about what was going on.

There were some quite important things that the bar did however. At that time, there was this kind of communist scare and there were accusations against some professors at the university and against some lawyers. So the bar took it upon itself to provide counsel to anybody who was in need of counsel and wanted their counsel. That was one important issue at the time. It was also kind of part of the tradition of our bar that we had always been willing to defend people and I think that our first, shall we say, foray into that kind of thing was to defend the Chinese, who were being evicted, railroaded, put on ships and sent away after they'd completed their hard work building the railroads.

AP: Let's talk about some of your earlier roles in the Bar Association.

BF: Well, actually I got pretty well acquainted because I was editing the Bar Bulletin and I went around and talked to the judges about the important cases that they had in their courts to do little squibs in the Bulletin. And then I would go and talk with the lawyers that were handling those cases. I became generally acquainted with quite a few people in the bar.

One day, I forget who it was, called me up and asked me if I would run for secretary of the bar and I was a little cheeky. I said is that job always reserved for women? And whoever I was talking with said, "Well, yeah I think that's right." And so I said, "I will run for secretary, but I would like to think that I could be considered for trustee one day if I do a good job." I think it was Stan Soderlund, who ... became a Superior Court judge in King County, I think he was the one who called me and he said that's only fair. I was called and asked to run for trustee. Those were contested elections and fiercely, hotly contested. I don't think I won by very much.

And then it was some time later that I was asked to run for second vice president. I won by just two votes. At that time, it was kept very secret and it wasn't announced until the night of the bar dinner, but I had an inkling because I got a call from Mary Gates, Bill Gates Sr.'s wife. And she said, "Betty, I think you oughta go get your hair done tomorrow." So that was the clue. [laughs]

AP: There was a lot happening during your presidency. Can you talk a little bit about what you walked into?

BF: The way I remember it, was that the young lawyers group had begun to organize was threatening to form their own bar association and not remain part of our Bar Association....

Just before I took over as president, Bill Gates had suggested that we give a minority scholarship to the University of Washington Law School and one to Seattle U. and the trustees voted for it. We were going to give $10,000, which was some big money at that time, to each school. But Joe Diamond, an active lawyer and also the fellow who had all of the parking lots around town, but in any event he was very conservative, and thought that this was something that the bar association should not be spending its money on or encouraging minorities to come to the law school. Joe called a special meeting, which was then very significantly attended, and there were quite fiery speeches, one by Bill Gates Sr. and one by Joe Diamond, and I don't remember who else spoke, but several did make some rather impassioned statements.

AP: What has the Bar Association meant for your career? And what did you gain from being part of the bar?

BF: Well, I gained a great deal from being part of the bar. Not only did I make lifelong friends from my acquaintances in the bar, but it gave me a platform from which to talk and to advance and members of the bar very kindly advanced my career.

AP: Do you think the bar is still relevant today? It's changed a lot, but do you think belonging to a bar association is important?

BF: Well, I think that belonging to the Bar Association is very important. Not only does it give the lawyers, particularly the young lawyers, the opportunity to have mentors, to have contacts that help them grow and develop in the bar, and to be not just ethical lawyers but concerned lawyers. Individuals that are not just lawyers, but are citizens of the community and belonging to the bar association is part of that....

We can be very proud of the fact that [KCBA] has existed for 125 years and has continued to be relevant in the community not only to promote the well being of lawyers but to advance justice and to genuinely be good citizens of the community. We should be proud of ourselves.

 

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