King County Superior Court is in the midst of a dramatic change that will affect all attorneys who litigate in our county. The generation of judges which has so ably served our citizens for the past decade or two is gradually beginning to retire and is being replaced by a new generation.
Beginning in January 2011, Judge Michael Fox retired and was replaced by Judge Patrick Oishi in May of last year. Then, Judge Steven Gonzalez was appointed to the Washington Supreme Court and Judge Phil Hubbard retired. In January, Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed Commissioner Lori Kay Smith and District Court Judge Barbara Linde to replace judges Gonzalez and Hubbard.
This past May, Judge Suzanne Barnett retired to take an administrative law judge position with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. On August 10, Judge Harry McCarthy retired. Judge Bill Bowman was elected to replace Judge McCarthy and began serving on October 1. Judge Judith Ramseyer was elected to replace Judge Barnett and began serving on November 1.
At the end of the year, judges Sharon Armstrong, Jim Doerty and Bruce Hilyer will retire. They will be replaced by Sean O'Donnell, Elizabeth Berns and Ken Schubert. Judge Michael Heavey also will retire; however, Scott Johnson, who had been elected to replace Judge Heavey, passed away suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 53 in October, leaving Judge Heavey's position without a successor at this time. I have asked Governor Gregoire to appoint a replacement for Scott to fill that position. In addition, Judge Christopher Washington is in a tight election with Sue Parisien and may not be able to retain his position.
Lastly, Court Commissioner Eric Watness retired in July 2011 and with Commissioner Smith's appointment to the bench we are now two commissioners short from what we had just 18 short months ago. For budgetary reasons, we have not filled those two positions, but that may well change this coming year as we finish analyzing our workload demands.
All of the judges who have left or are leaving our bench are experienced judicial officers who helped our court attain a reputation of excellence and hard work. They represent judges who served as past presiding, chief criminal, chief civil, chief Unified Family Court and chief asbestos judges, as well as Executive Committee members - heavy lifters who brought a sense of competence and experience that will take time to replace.
Those who have recently joined our ranks or who are about to come to the bench will be excellent judges in their own right, but it will take time. There is no substitute for experience on the bench except to simply be there and do the work.
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