King County Superior Court Judge – Pos. 37 – Judge Michael K. Ryan

Judicial Questionnaire

Candidate Information

  • Candidate Name: Judge Michael K. Ryan
  • Position Sought: King County Superior Court Judge – Pos. 37 (Incumbent)
  • Home Legislative District: 37
  • Democrat: The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges and judicial candidates 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.

I graduated from Rutgers College and Georgetown University Law Center, and then clerked for the Honorable Frank J. Magill of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. I began my legal practice at Preston Gates and Ellis, and ultimately became a partner at what is now known as K&L Gates. My practice focused on complex civil, constitutional, municipal and appellate litigation. I left private practice to join the Seattle City Attorney’s Office in 2015 where I was lead counsel in several challenges to local initiatives, the City’s defense of its so-called “sanctuary city” status, and defended numerous other legislative enactments. I was appointed by Gov. Inslee to a seat on the King County Superior Court bench in January 2019. I have no union affiliation; however, I grew up in a union family, as my father was a union electrician with IBEW Local 167. In addition, I am a past Chair of Washington Audubon and am a former board member of the ACLU of Washington. I have never sought election or appointment to any office other than the one I currently hold. In the past, I have been involved with my mother’s campaign for City Council in Bogota, New Jersey and went door-to-door on President Obama’s campaign. I have also donated to Bob Ferguson’s campaign as well as Rod Dembowski’s, Patty Murray, Pete Holmes, and Washington United for Marriage in recent years.

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.

Law Clerk (2001-2002) – The Honorable Frank J. Magill, United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit. In this role, I assisted the judge in preparing for oral arguments and writing opinions, as well as writing bench memorandum on various legal issues.
Preston Gates & Ellis/K&L Gates (2002-2015) – I began my career at Preston Gates as an associate and ultimately became a partner at K&L Gates. I practiced in the area of complex civil litigation, and developed a specialty in constitutional, municipal and appellate litigation.
Seattle City Attorney’s Office (2015-2019) – I was an Assistant City Attorney in the Government Affairs Section. In that role, I dealt with many high-profile cases involving constitutional issues, initiative cases, public records, and questions involving municipal authority. For example, I was the sole attorney defending the City’s Democracy Voucher Program, and was the lead attorney in the City’s defense of the hotel workers’ rights initiative, as well as a challenge to the City’s law which allowed Uber and Lyft drivers to collectively negotiate with those companies. I also routinely advised the Mayor’s Office, the Seattle City Council, and the Office of Labor Standards.
King County Superior Court (Feb. 2019-present) – Governor Inslee appointed me in January 2019, and I began my work on the bench in February. I am currently on a criminal/civil rotation, where I have already presided over three jury trials, among other work.

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?

No, I have never served as a mediator or an arbitrator prior to being appointed. While I have not yet performed settlement conferences, I do intend to do so when appropriate because the cost of a mediator can often be prohibitive to certain parties. I view performing settlement conferences as a way to reduce litigation costs and promote equity in the legal process. Not every case needs to go to trial, but having to pay mediation costs can add substantial costs, which in turn, can make a case less amenable to settlement.

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

No, I was never a judge pro-tem. I am, however, now a Judge on the King County Superior Court and have been since February 2019.

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

Fairness, impartiality, independence, and a willingness to work hard. Everyone who appears in a courtroom should leave that courtroom with the belief, win or lose, that they were fairly heard, treated with dignity and respect, and that the judge heard both sides. They should also understand why a judge made the decision he or she made. As a court of general jurisdiction, the Superior Court hears a wide variety of cases and disputes. Being willing and able to learn the facts and the law before the parties arrive in your courtroom requires diligence, hard work and the ability to manage your time in an orderly manner. Being prepared is essential to the fair and impartial administration of justice and a commitment to such preparation is an important quality for judges to have. Finally, judges must be independent and must be willing to make tough decisions, even if those decisions are not popular.

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

I was appointed by Governor Inslee in January of this year, and by law, I have to run for retention. I sought an appointment because I firmly believe in the rule of law and the judicial process. I also believed that my extensive civil litigation background would be an asset to the King County Superior Court. Before seeking an appointment, I discussed the possibility with numerous lawyers and other judges, all of whom encouraged me to seek an appointment. As for priorities, I understand that every case before me is the most important case for the parties before me, and I want to stress to the voters that the legal process, while perhaps daunting to many, is a vital part of our democratic system of governance. In my campaign, I hope to meet as many voters and organizations as possible to hear their concerns and talk with them about the importance of an independent judiciary that treats all parties with fairness and impartiality.

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

I have hired an experienced judicial campaign manager to run my campaign. I have five co-chairs on my campaign who bring with them access to political and civic leaders. I also have been seeking endorsements from various legislative districts, elected officials, other judges, attorneys and members of the community. Governor Inslee put a tremendous amount of faith in me, and I intend to run a strong campaign to retain my position on the King County Superior Court. While I currently have no known opponent, if I do, however, draw a challenger, I am in a solid position to run a strong, well-funded campaign. I have a fundraising event scheduled in late April.


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. Equal access to the courts, which includes access to court files, is vital to equal justice. Just because someone is not a member of the bar does not mean that they should not have the same access to court files and records. This is particularly so in an age where virtually every document is available in electronic form; thus, per-page costs do not make much sense any longer. Better funding of the judicial branch is another way to obviate the need to charge on per-page basis because it would allow systems to be updated which, in turn, would reduce the costs associated with providing documents.

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

Smartphones are ubiquitous and have many positive virtues. Lawyers, for example, can easily look up a case or a statute during oral argument in order to assist their clients. This is a good thing because it allows the parties’ counsel to interact with the court in a way that is efficient and assists the court in making a just and fair ruling. With respect to jurors, the issue is very different. Jurors must have, and maintain throughout a trial, an open mind—a fair trial depends on this. Nowadays, it is far too easy to access information about, for example, a criminal defendant on-line, whether through social media or media coverage. Doing so threatens a fair trial because jurors must only make their decision based solely on the facts they hear in the courtroom and the law that the court gives them. This is why during every trial, jurors are constantly reminded not to do independent research about anything related to the case, and I emphasize not to do research via electronic means. During a jury trial, moreover, it is imperative that jurors give the witnesses and counsel their undivided attention, and smartphones can be an easy distraction.

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. As a separate and independent branch of government, the judiciary should not have to fund parts of its operations through fees and costs imposed on people who seek access to the court system. Access to the courts should not depend on whether you can afford to file a lawsuit or pay other fees associated with litigating a case. The Superior Court system should be funded through the general funds of both the County and State, but with a healthy respect that funding not be dependent on whether other elected officials like or dislike rulings issued by the courts.


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?

Fair and equal access to justice is vital to the legitimacy of our court system. In my view, judges have an obligation to explain the process to litigants who may not understand or fully appreciate the judicial process. In addition, in my time on the bench, I have first-hand experience with the importance of interpreters for non-English speaking parties. Not only should interpreters be provided to make the process understandable, but our court forms should be available in as many languages as possible. King County is increasingly diverse, and our court has an obligation to reflect that community and accommodate potential language barriers. Finally, I firmly believe in the value of civic education, and I am committed to working with schools and other community groups to make my courtroom available for observation and, where appropriate, questions about the process. For example, I recently had two high school students in my courtroom to observe, and during a break, I came off the bench to talk with them about our court system and its structure.

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

I remember being in the courtroom at a hearing regarding the consent decree between the Federal Government and the City of Seattle dealing with police practices when Judge Robart said from the bench “Black Lives Matter.” It was an important moment for me because it was a recognition by a federal judge of the importance of acknowledging the disparity of treatment that Blacks have faced in policing and concomitantly in our criminal justice system. To me, as a candidate, it is constant reminder that no matter how far we think we have come in our criminal justice system, there is still much work to be done to live up the words engraved on the U.S. Supreme Court – “Equal Justice Under the Law.” It is also a reminder to me that we must acknowledge that institutional racism exists, and as a judge, I have a special role to play in ensuring that courts treat all parties with equal fairness, equal dignity, and equal respect.

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

Washington’s courtrooms are presumed open, and only under very limited circumstances should they be closed to the public. The same is true with respect to documents that are filed with the court. These are guiding principles and must be vigilantly maintained. As for transparency, I am committed to explaining every decision I make on the record, so the parties and the public understand why I made the ruling that I did. I am also committed to ruling on motions in a timely fashion and fully explaining my rulings. Lastly, as I noted above, I am firmly committed to civics education. My courtroom is an open courtroom, and I will encourage the public to attend court proceedings. Seeing the work that is actually done in a courtroom can serve to demystify the legal process and allow people to gain a better understanding of the important work we do.


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

Printed Name: Judge Michael K. Ryan

Date: 04/04/2019

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