Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 26, 2012

Interviewing Deborra Garrett for Judge

Sorry for the delay in getting this out, I’ve been unpacking like a madman. Here is the first in a series of three interview with all the candidates for Whatcom County Superior Court.

Deborra Garrett cautiously picks her words, as we sit for coffee at Adagio Cafe (my go-to spot for candidate interviews). I figured I would start out with the basic question, why are you running for superior court judge?

“I’m running because I can make a significant contribution to the court and our community.” She launches right in with her resume. “I’ve practiced law in Bellingham since 1979, during all those years about 75% of my cases has been in superior court, the rest has been been in the US District court. I’ve represented clients at every level. I’ve argued cases in the US supreme court and Washington supreme court. I’ve worked the whole spectrum of law.”

Deborra Garrett for Superior Court Judge

That covers the legal background, how about perspective? Garrett segues smoothly her self-described strength, independence. “I have not been a prosecutor or a public defender, I haven’t been court or a judge in a lower court. Working ones way up the ranks is one way to become a superior court judge, but another way is to practice in all the areas that the superior court covers. The advantage to my way is I bring an independent perspective.”

She takes a moment to note that she is the only candidate to have private sector experience of those running for this seat. But back to perspective,  “I’ve represented many different perspectives and points of view, I don’t have background only one point of view. If you have been a defense attorney for 20 years or a prosecutor of 20 years, you can bring a certain slant to the bench.”

Judicial campaigns are difficult because, like many legal nominees, they cannot discuss issues that they are going to be ruling on later. Many judicial candidates have expressed frustration because it limits their discussions to experience, background and character, but as a clever interviewer, I tried my best to get some answers on legal perspectives that might be applicable to some sort of circumstances. For instance . . .

How does Garrett view initiative efforts, like Coal-Free Bellingham, that try to reclaim legal jurisdiction over transportation of goods through communities?  “I always support people who use legal methods and the court to resolve disputes rather than using other means. Part of the social contract we make is that we will respect the law and use the courts rather than using violence and taking things into our hands. As for what results we can expect, we are way too premature, we don’t know the issues or the facts, but I have a lot of questions about everything I’ve heard from both sides.”

What about her perspective on counties that choose to ignore specific state laws, such as to pull a random example out of a hat, the Growth Management Act? “The laws should be enforced, all of the laws. Any government entity, whether it is an agency or a court, you can’t play favorites with the law. There has to be consistency.”

One of Deborra Garrett’s opponent, David Grant, made a somewhat partisan appeal to the Whatcom County Republicans at their convention in April, how does Garrett feel about partisanship in judicial elections? “Judicial elections are non-partisan for a reason. The qualities in a judge are different than the legislators who make the law, really if the judge is doing her job properly than partisanship doesn’t enter into it. She is bound by that law made by legislators.”

The term “activist judge” gets thrown around a great deal, how do you define an “activist judge”?  “An ‘Activist Judge’ is a judge who substitutes their own personal opinion for the dictacts of the law, and I don’t see this as a partisan issue at all. Judges who substitute their own opinion for the law, they are doing a bad job. Period.”

We talked a little bit about the state of her campaign. She has raised the most money of any of the judicial candidates, clocking in at a whopping $37,000, with David Grant only raising $19,500 and Carrie Coppinger Carter trailing with $6,000. Garrett has hired famed Seattle consultant Cathy Allen to manage consult with her campaign. Allen has consultant for numerous female candidates state-wide and locally helped shape Rep. Kris Lytton’s campaign in 2010.

Who is Garrett’s legal role-model? “Early in my career, Mary Ellen Krug, who was a prominent labor lawyer in Seattle was my role-model. She was instrumental in establishing an annual labor law conference that draws representatives of employees, employers and unions from all over the west coast, to learn about the law and also to talk. In doing that, she established a way for people on opposites sides of issues to talk about what they had in common. It changed the tenor of the practice of labor law in the northwest. The fact that she was a woman was a factor but she was no ordinary woman.”

What makes you stand out from your opponents? “I have significantly more experience than any of the other opponents and the experience that I have is much more germane to superior court. I’ve practiced in almost all the subject materials that the court handles. I started my career in the superior court working for parents who were perceived as abusing their children, then later I represented children in abuse cases. My perspective changed dramaticly. If you have the ability to see different perspectives, that is an essential skill for a judge.”

She also toted her commitment to community services and how that is connected to her worldview. “My record of community service shows that I am committed to justice in our community. I went to law school because I wanted to make the world a little better, I wanted to fight for justice. Over the years my perspective hasn’t changed. I still think that the courts are important features in our society. I’ve been at this thirty years and I still believe it. I don’t think our legal system is perfect but it is far and away the best system I have seen.”

 Finally, and least importantly, who is your favorite fictional legal expert? “Not really sure, although I do like that Perry Mason finished his cases. I admired that the case is done in an hour.”

You can read more about Deborra Garrett on her campaign site here.



  1. “An ‘Activist Judge’ is a judge who substitutes their own personal opinion for the dictacts of the law…” Offers Candidate Garrett
    Ok, but the reason we have judges is, in part, that the meaning of The Law isn’t always clear or ‘Dictated’ but instead is a flexible and sometimes abstract concept willing to be bent to an individual case circumstance.
    No Judge is gonna sit long when they ignore the intent of the law in favor of some other view or attempt to rewrite the statutes to fit their biases.
    There’s really no such thing as an Activist Judge in terms of rulings since they are all handed the power to make their interpretations stick even under appeal.
    To me an Activist Judge is one that undermines the argument and behavior of one party over another during trial since that is their real everyday power as referees in court.
    And that’s where personality flaws surface and where personal opinions ruin justice.

  2. Good interview Riley! As a member of the Deborra Garrett for Judge Committee, I just want to make one small correction to your piece. Although the campaign has consulted with her on some issues, Cathy Allen has not been hired to manage Deborra Garrett’s campaign. Karen Funston and Mary Swenson are the co-managers of the campaign. Mark Asmundson is the campaign chairman. You can view the Committee members at:

    • Thank you for the catch. Thank you!

  3. […] by men. I really encourage readers to take a good look at both Carrie Coppinger Carter and Deborra Garrett as their next superior court judge. Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

  4. […] as a Republican running for office, and then got endorsed by the Whatcom GOP. Deborra Garrett, who I had the delight of interviewing recently, has rounded up an impressive batch of Democratic endorsers and supporters and was endorsed by […]

  5. […] be soon. While I was on their website looking for my interview, I noticed that judicial candidate Deborra Garrett has purchased ads in the Western Front aimed at college students. An interesting choice, one that […]

  6. […] County Superior Court Judge: Deborra Garrett. Read my interview with her here, and her opponent, David Grant, making nakedly partisan appeals to the Republicans […]

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