King County Superior Court Judge — Pos. 49 – Judge Aimee Sutton

Judicial Questionnaire

Candidate Information

  • Candidate Name: Judge Aimee Sutton
  • Position Sought: King County Superior Court Judge — Pos. 49 (Incumbent)
  • Home Legislative District: 43
  • 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.

Employment: Governor Inslee appointed me to a vacant seat on the King County Superior Court bench in February 2019, and prior to my current position, I was a trial attorney practicing primarily criminal defense law for 16 years. Seven of those years were spent as a public defender.

Education: I grew up in Seattle and graduated from Garfield High School, but earned my B.A. degree from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. In the early 90’s, I spent several months in Ecuador conducting a survey of public health institutions in Quito. Working there for the U.S. Agency for International Development, I also conducted a program for evaluating an economic development project on macroeconomic education in the Ecuadorian university system. I became fluent in Spanish and I’m Foreign Service certified to conduct work in Spanish-speaking countries.

While completing coursework toward a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies at Georgetown University’s Woodrow Wilson School for International Studies, I edited translations of academic books to be published by Smithsonian Press and organized logistics for seminars involving international academics and diplomats.

I returned to Seattle in 1998 and worked in journalism/editing/website usability positions at various Puget Sound companies until I entered law school in 2000 at the University of Washington.

Union involvement: While working in the high-tech industry, I was involved with the founding of WashTech, a union for contract employees at Microsoft. This organization still exists, but my involvement ended when I stopped working as a contractor. My subsequent union activity involved a stint on the public defender’s bargaining committee after Society of Counsel Representing Accused Persons (SCRAP) voted to join SEIU 925.

Political involvement: Back when I was in high school, I volunteered for the Dukakis campaign. More recently, I travelled to Colorado in 2016 to doorbell for the Clinton campaign. I have also worked on fundraising efforts for candidates at the local and federal levels.

Community and civic activity: Since becoming a lawyer, most of my community and civic activity has been in legal service organizations like the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (WACDL), the Washington State Bar Association Criminal Law Section’s Executive Committee and the Latina/o Bar Association (LBAW), where I served on the Board for four years and as the organization’s president until January 2018. I have also been a regular volunteer at the free legal clinics offered by El Centro de la Raza throughout the state of Washington.

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.

Public defender at the Society of Counsel for Accused Persons (SCRAP) — March 2004-June 2011

Private practice focused on criminal defense and administrative law — June 2011-February 2019

I have never been a prosecutor.

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?

I served as a judge pro tem in Des Moines Municipal Court on a few occasions when Judge Alicea Galvan was the presiding judge in that court. The experience gave me a solid appreciation for both the awesome responsibility a judge holds on matters large and small, as well as the opportunity a judge has to positively impact the lives of those who come before the court. I also learned a great deal about the importance of courtroom management.

Recently, I trained to work as a judge pro tem in Edmonds Municipal Court. However, I was appointed to the Superior Court bench before I had an opportunity to preside over any of the calendars I’d scheduled.

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

The characteristics that define a great judge are commitment to access to justice, empathy and intellectual curiosity. A judge who combines all of those traits with hard work and legal preparedness will treat all litigants who appear before her fairly and considerately and be able to administer justice impartially.

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

My passion for access to justice and commitment to public service are what motivated me to seek this office. It is my hope that as part of a collegial work group, I can help expand opportunities for those who need legal help to be able to seek it in the courthouse. I especially hope to use my experience working with the Latino community to ensure that all feel safe, respected, and welcome in the courthouse. I also hope to be involved in projects that will serve to educate new immigrants and other non-English speaking communities about our American justice system and how they might best access it.

In my campaign, I hope to talk with voters about the importance of having judges with a variety of legal and life experiences. My work as a public defender, working with some of the most overlooked members of our community and with non-English speaking communities – both here and abroad – has given me an important perspective on how varying communities see our justice system. I think my experience is an important asset to a 53-judge bench.

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

I have hired a campaign consultant/manager who has a great track record with judicial campaigns. I am seeking endorsements that will also strengthen my position as a candidate. I am speaking to all the Democratic Legislative District meetings throughout King County and will be addressing other organizations that have a vested interest in the quality of our judiciary – Labor, women, etc. While I am an incumbent in this position and presently have no opposition, I am taking nothing for granted and intend to interact with voters throughout the county.

 

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?

I support making it easier for anyone to get public records. In the electronic era, per page fees are anachronistic. Records can be delivered electronically for a fraction of the cost. At the same time, it is fair to charge for access if those fees go to providing more convenient and affordable access and systems to deliver records.

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 often necessary in the courtroom for attorneys because an increasing amount of information is contained on them. For example, when scheduling matters, it is common to see all attorneys consulting their calendars on their phones.
Smartphone use is more problematic when it comes to jurors. Jurors unfortunately spend a lot of time waiting, so it’s impractical to prohibit jurors from using them at all. But it’s very important that judges instruct jurors early and often about the perils of conducting freelance legal research. When a juror does so, it can result in a mistrial which requires an expensive re-trial.

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?

Court funding should come from the state or county general fund. Any funding streams that come from court fees set up an incentive strategy that is not necessarily consistent with the impartial administration of justice. Legal financial obligations also disproportionately affect poor people and have collateral consequences that impact someone’s life for years.

 

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?

The Superior Court has a role to play in educating the public about its function, must be open to all, and be a safe place where legal matters can be resolved. It is critical that all Court personnel undergo training that focuses on developing cultural competence. King County has become a diverse and culturally textured community, and it is important that both judges and other Court personnel be sensitive to the various cultures that make King County a great place to live. My background and work with various cultures makes me well-suited to projects that help us develop these programs. I also look forward to working on improvement of the Court’s website and other methods of community outreach like speaking engagements in diverse communities.

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

I think it’s very important to keep this phrase in mind when analyzing any issue in the justice system. Over the past 40 years, law and policies have had a disproportionate and deleterious effect on the black community. Everything from bail to prison sentences to jury selection has been demonstrated to have a more harsh effect on communities of color. By referring to this phrase, it’s a good way to examine both implicit and explicit bias involved in making the variety of decisions that judges are called upon to make.

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

The more access people have to the court, the more transparent it will be. I have an interest in utilizing existing technologies to provide video access to some appropriate court proceedings, for example, especially those that are of great interest to the public. In my courtroom, I will make sure that our personnel also do their part to be open and responsive to all who do business with the court.

 


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

Printed Name: Judge Aimee Sutton

Date: 02/17/2019

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