King County Superior Court Judge – Pos. 19 – Judge Nelson Lee

Judicial Questionnaire

Candidate Information

  • Candidate Name: Judge Nelson Lee
  • Position Sought: King County Superior Court Judge – Pos. 19 (Incumbent)
  • Home Legislative District: 1
  • Democrat: Judges are prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from declaring a party affiliation.

Campaign Information

Part I – Candidate Background

1. Please briefly describe your qualifications, education, employment, community and civic activity, union affiliation, prior political activity, and other relevant experience.

Pepperdine University Law School – 1993 (Juris Doctor); Boston College – 1990 (BA Political Science and Sociology)
King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office: 1993 – 2010 – assignments included District Court, Juvenile, Drug, Special Assault, Homicide, and Sexually Violent Predator units
Lee & Lee; Lee, PS: 2010 to 2020 – Founder and Managing Partner of minority-owned law firm with practice focused on immigration, personal injury, civil litigation and criminal defense
Community and Civic activities include:
Asian Bar Association of Washington – Joint Asian Judicial Evaluation Committee: 2010 – 2018
Asian Bar Association of Washington – President: 2003, Board of Directors: 2000 – 2002
Boston College Parents Leadership Council – Member: 2014 – 2019
Hong Kong-Greater China Business Association of Washington – President: 2015-2017, Member: 2010 – 2018
Holy Names Academy Development Committee – Member: 2014-2018
International District Legal Clinic: 2010 – present
Lake Forest Park Human Services Commission – Chair: 1999 – 2002, Member 1996-1999
Seniors in Action Foundation – Board Member/Volunteer Legal Advisor: 2010 – 2019
Prior Union Affiliation:
King County Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association
Prior Political Activity:
Interned for U.S. Senator Brock Adams (Summers of 1989 and 1990) and worked on immigration issues and cases
Volunteered sparingly on Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign (Washington State)

2. What law firms or public law offices (i.e. King County Prosecutor’s Office) have you worked for? Have you served as a prosecutor or a public defender? Please include dates, and title for each position that you have held, as well as areas of law practiced.

I worked for the King County Prosecutor’s Office as deputy prosecutor from September
1993 until October 2010. My assignments within that office were as follows (dates are
October 1993 to December 1994 – District Court
January 1995 to December 1996 – Juvenile Division
January 1997 to December 1997 – Felony Drug Unit
January 1998 to February 1999 – Special Assault Unit
March 1999 to April 2000 Felony Drug Unit Co-Chair
May 2000 to March 2001 – Special Assault Unit (promoted to Senior Deputy
Prosecuting Attorney)
April 2001 to December 2001 – Special Assault Unit (Kent) Co-Supervisor
January 2002 to March 2003 – Special Assault Unit (Kent) Supervisor
April 2003 to May 2007 – Most Dangerous Offender Project (Homicide Unit)
June 2007 to September 2010 – Sexually Violent Predator Unit
After leaving the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, my wife and I founded our law firm, Lee & Lee, PS. I served as Managing Partner of the 5-attorney firm since 2010. My practice has focused on immigration, personal injury, general civil litigation, criminal defense, and some employment discrimination cases.

3. Have you ever served as a mediator or arbitrator? (If so, please describe your experiences.) If you are an incumbent, do you perform settlement conferences?

%3. Have you ever served as a mediator or arbitrator? (If so, please describe your experiences.) If you are an incumbent, do you perform settlement conferences?%

4. Have you been a judge pro-tem? If so, what was that experience like? What did you learn from it?

Yes. I have limited experience serving as judge pro tem for the cities of Lake Forest Park
and Federal Way. The pre-trial, traffic, and motions calendars that I presided over were
about as I had expected. The small claims calendars, however, were the most eye-
opening. A good judge needs to be patient, fair, neutral, and open minded. A good
judge must also be open-minded. My first few small claims cases tested these
characteristics to the limits. The litigants who appeared before me presented their
cases with great passion and conviction. Some were impatient, upset, and extremely
argumentative. Maintaining the appropriate level of courtroom control was more
difficult than I had expected and certainly more challenging than situations
where both parties were represented by counsel. Applying the facts to the
law instead of fighting the urge to compromise or to find a middle ground (as if that
would appease the parties) was also more onerous than anticipated.

5. What do you believe are the most important qualifications for a judge or justice?

A judge must always endeavor to respect and honor the office as a public trust. A just must also be informed about the cases over which he/she presided, be in respectful control of his/her courtroom, and genuinely and completely listen to all sides. As judge, I will work tirelessly to ensure that everyone leaving my courtroom departed with the sense that no matter the outcome, they each received respect and a fair and complete hearing.
Trial judges are the standard bearers of the law. People who appear in trial courts should be able to confidently rely on established precedent and have the certitude that the judge before whom they are appearing will apply the law in a neutral and fair manner. Judges are human beings and as such, are vulnerable to prejudice and bias just like anyone else. If allowed to legislate or engage in activism from the bench, a judge’s personal bias and prejudice are almost certainly going to creep unfettered into the courtroom, resulting in chaos and injustice.

6. What prompted you to run for this office? What priorities are you seeking to address with your campaign?

I was a public servant for the first 17 years of my legal career. Public service has always been my calling. After establishing myself as a private law practitioner, I found myself more interested in working on my pro bono cases. Becoming a judge has allowed me to return to public service.

With significant trial experience in both civil and criminal cases, I have the requisite qualifications to be an effective trial judge. I also have significant immigration law experience. Given the wholesale changes to our nation’s immigration laws over the last 2-3 years, immigration law experience and knowledge is necessary to ensure that everyone who enters the courthouse is afforded due process.

Our justice system is overworked and underfunded. Although access to justice has been improved, there is still much work to do. For the past 27 years I fought for access to justice on behalf of victims, victims’ families, and my clients. As a judge, I believe I am better situated to ensure that parties not only have unfettered access to justice, but also complete justice once they are in my courtroom.

7. What steps are you taking to run a successful campaign?

Although I was appointed to a vacant seat on the Superior Court just two months ago, I have made substantial progress in developing a strong campaign. I have hired a professional campaign consultant/manager who specializes in judicial campaigns, I have launched an extensive process of gathering endorsements, and posted a website and FB page. While the current coronavirus crisis has created significant challenges to our ability to gather organizational endorsements and raise funds, we have continued to receive donations nearly every day. Because I have been very involved in the Chinese American community, I expect that further support will come from those supporters. As soon as the various Legislative District organizations are able to work out the logistics for virtual meetings, I expect to be able to be able to present myself to them.


Part II – Position-specific

1. Do you support making it easier for Washingtonians who are not members of the bar to access public records, particularly at the Superior/District court levels, where per-page fees are charged?

Yes – this is clearly an access to justice issue. Lawyers file most, if not all pleadings and records electronically. This means someone outside the court has already done the “work” of entering the records into the court’s system – and usually accompanied by a filing fee. The fees and costs to the general public for accessing such records (discussed in more detail in another section) therefore seems unreasonable.
The lack of funding is a major barrier excluding many from justice. A 2016 study estimated that 13.8% of all men and 16.3% of all women live in poverty in the U.S. The 2016 Census revealed that poverty impacts Native Americans the most (27.6%), with African Americans a very close second (26.2%), and Hispanics third-most (23.4%). The bar and the bench alone cannot make justice more equitable. The entire community must partner up – judges must join with attorneys, business leaders, nonprofits, and politicians/legislators to find sustainable ways to increase funding for legal services to the poor, including the removal of structural and cost barriers to the court system.

2. Do you have any thoughts on how our courts should address the growing use of smartphones during court proceedings, particularly by jurors?

Jurors should be instructed to surrender their smart phones to the bailiff at the beginning of each day and not returned until the end of the court day. There always seems to be at least one person who forgets to turn off or silence his/her phone. An errant ringing phone is not only disruptive to court proceedings but also disrespectful to the parties, witnesses, spectators, and fellow jurors. Allowing jurors free access to their smartphones also unwittingly invites individuals to conduct impermissible legal or factual research and/or to be distracted. Smartphones can also be used to surreptitiously record testimony and/or individuals.

3. Is Washington relying too much on court fees to cover the cost of operating our judicial system? How do you believe our courts should be funded?

Yes – and often, these fees are being levied on people who can least afford them. Consequently, a significant percentage of the population is denied access to justice. Only a small portion of the state’s operating budget is allotted to the state courts. The same scenario is played out in local courts. This needs to change. The justice system is supposed to be a co-equal branch of the government and one of the pillars of democracy. With equal access to our justice system, how can we truthfully call our society democratic? State and local governments must therefore allocate a larger portion of their operating budgets to the courts, even if it means spending less on the arts, parks and recreation, and collegiate sports.
In addition to these unpopular cuts, much-needed funds could be raised by levies or taxes. Almost every year, the public is asked to vote on levies, bonds, and taxes to fund education, fire districts, public safety, transportation, and parks – all vital to our way of life. Yet I cannot recall the last time I’ve seen similar proposals to raise funds for our overworked and underfunded justice system.


Part III – Access to Justice

1. If elected, how will you work to improve access to justice, particularly for communities and constituencies that do not understand the American legal system?

I will advocate for the continued and accelerated translation of information currently available in English and selected languages on the King County Superior and District Court websites. King County enjoys a diverse community of people that speak dozens of languages. These groups need to have the ability to access basic information about our legal system and the services it provides. Basic services like victim assistance, the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, small claims, protection orders, and self-help divorce are virtually unheard of in many foreign jurisdictions. I will also continue to speak at venues organized by community groups to educate individuals about the services that the courts and legal system offer and about basic individual rights. To reach as broad an audience as possible, I will recruit my judicial colleagues, lawyers, law students, and paralegals to help me in this endeavor.

2. What does the phrase Black Lives Matter mean to you as a judicial candidate?

“Black Lives Matter “ is a call to action for the public to acknowledge that blacks are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed compared to whites. It is an important to reminder to those who have conveniently forgotten or chosen to ignore the African American experience in the United States since slavery – that black lives didn’t matter when they were sold like livestock to inhumane owners who subjugated them to a life of misery, that black lives didn’t matter when they were lynched with impunity, that black lives didn’t matter when they were denied the right to vote, and that black lives don’t matter when they are denied access to justice.

3. What ideas can you offer to make our judicial system more open, transparent, and responsive?

Over the past several years our courts have done a commendable job establishing an electronic records-filing and records-keeping system. While this has made pleadings and records more accessible to the public, there are still some hurdles to overcome. In King County for example, an individual has to set up an Electronic Court Records (“ECR”) account, which requires an application and the setup of a declining balance account. The current cost to access case documents online is 25 cents per page PLUS a $2.49 King County ecommerce transaction fee. These costs make access to court documents cost prohibitive to a significant portion of the population. Providing free access to ECR to non-lawyers/non-paralegals should be a priority.
Access to court records is meaningful only if they are detailed and complete. While lawyers may understand the reasoning behind a judge’s ruling, litigants (and spectators) usually don’t. Judicial rulings should always be accompanied by clear and succinct explanations to preserve the appellate record and judicial system’s openness and transparency. This should be mandated by court rule.
As judge, I would also advocate for the increased, if not complete, participation of judges in settlement conferences. These free settlement conferences can provide low-income litigants the opportunity to resolve disputes without having to pay high mediation fees. Currently, only a handful of King County Superior Court judges and commissioners offer settlement conferences.


By typing my name below, I declare under penalty of perjury the foregoing is true and correct.

Printed Name: Judge Nelson Lee

Date: 3/21/20

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