King County Superior Court Installs Judicial Service Wall

If you haven’t visited the King County Courthouse recently, you might be surprised to find a new court history installation in Courtroom E942. On the back wall are inscribed the names and service dates of all King County Superior Court Judges, from the formation of the Court shortly after statehood in 1889 to the present. All judges, from the first superior court judge, the Hon. Isaac J. Lichtenberg, to the most recent retiree, are there.

The installation was the brainchild of former King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell, who helped design, install, and fund the project through a generous personal, private donation. Jeff Hendrix provided outstanding woodworking expertise and Court staff member Beth Taylor scoured historical records to verify service dates.

Judge Ramsdell, who retired in 2018, noticed that the Court was going through a tremendous period of change through judicial retirement and, with that, a huge loss of institutional memory and appreciation for the central role the courts, legal system, and lawyers have played in the Pacific Northwest. Judge Ramsdell added, “King County Superior Court has a long and rich history that I felt needed to be memorialized. I also hope that the judicial service wall will perhaps inspire some young, talented lawyers to consider careers in public service.”

When E942 is not in session, please stop by and take a look. Far from being just names on a wall, each judge represents hundreds of cases and thousands of litigants, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, bailiffs, clerks, and court staff who participated in the justice system during the past 130 years. Said Presiding Judge Patrick Oishi, “Every week, thousands of individuals come to our courthouse seeking justice during some of the most difficult chapters of their lives. The ‘judicial wall’ is not simply a list of names, but an incredible testament to dedicated public service and commitment to access to justice that each King County Superior Court Judge embodies.”

The names represent the entire range of criminal, civil, family law, estate, and juvenile cases presented in court in the past 130 years, from the most complex, political, high profile and precedent-setting to those which were not. They represent the huge political, socio-economic, and demographic changes since 1889, as the Court transformed from a single-judge jurisdiction to the complex, diverse 54-judge court of today. Among the many judges on the wall are:

• Hon. Isaac J. Lichtenberg (1889–97): the first King County Superior Court Judge and wounded civil war veteran who served with early court judges, Hon. Julius Stratton and Hon. Thomas Humes.

• Hon. J.T. Ronald (1909–49): the longest serving superior court judge and prosecuting attorney during Seattle’s Anti-Chinese Riots; served until age 93.

• Hon. Judge William J. Wilkins (1939–72): served as judge in several Nuremberg trials following the Second World War.

• Hon. Charles Z. Smith (1966–72): the first African American and Latino to serve on superior court; went on to serve as justice of Washington’s Supreme Court.

• Hon. Nancy Ann Holman (1970–97): the first woman to serve as King County Superior Court Judge.

• Hon. Linda Lau (1995–2007): the first Asian American woman judge on the Court.

• Hon. Carolyn Dimmick (1976–81): subsequently appointed to Washington’s Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

• Hon. Eugene Wright (1954–66): subsequently appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

• Hon. Anne Ellington (1984–95): served as Presiding Judge and subsequently appointed to Washington’s Appeals Court, Division I.

• Hon. Charles V. Johnson (1981–98): prominent African American judge and Presiding Judge.

• Hon. Carmen Otero (1980–95): first Latina judge on the Court.

• Hon. Warren Chan (1969–92): first Asian American Judge and Presiding Judge.

• Hon. Deborah Juarez (1995): first Native American judge on the Court.

• Hon. Norma Smith-Huggins (1988–2000): first African American women judge.

Judge Lum retired from King County Superior Court in 2022 after 23 years of judicial service. He is now a mediator/arbitrator at JAMS and President-elect of the WA Courts Historical Society.

Originally published in the September 2023 issue of the King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin.  Reprinted with permission of the King County Bar Association.