King County Superior Court Judge – Pos. 5 – Judge Maureen McKee

Judicial Questionnaire

Candidate Information

  • Candidate Name: Judge Maureen McKee
  • Position Sought: King County Superior Court Judge – Pos. 5 (Incumbent)
  • Home Legislative District: 34
  • Democrat: The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from delcaring 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.

In 1994, I received my B.A. degree from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio where I majored in African American Studies. In 2002, I received my J.D. degree from Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY where I also participated in the Masters in Public Administration program at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs.

Since August 2018, I have been a King County Superior Court judge, appointed by Governor Jay Inslee.

From 2002 to 2018, I have been a Public Defender for The Defender Association where I was a Staff Attorney, an Investigation Supervisor, Supervisor of the Misdemeanor Unit and Interim Managing Attorney. As a Supervisor of the Misdemeanor Unit, I managed a team of ten new attorneys practicing in Seattle Municipal Court. As a Staff Attorney, I represented both juveniles and adults charged with misdemeanors and felonies, juveniles and adults facing psychiatric hospitalization under the Involuntary Treatment Act, adults facing civil commitment under the Sexually Violent Predators law, and parents and children involved in dependency matters.

As a Staff Attorney at TDA, I was a member of SEIU 925, and as a supervisor, I was a member of Teamsters Local 117.

I have also worked for the American Refugee Committee Legal Aid Center in Mostar, Bosnia providing legal advocacy to displaced persons assisting them in reclaiming property lost during the conflict there, and for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children in San Francisco. There I provided referrals, advocacy and other support services for individuals in prison.

Below are the details of my complete resume:

EDUCATION

Cornell Law School, Ithaca, NY
Juris Doctor, Graduated 2002
Awards/scholarships: Patrick Stewart Human Rights Scholarship

Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, Ithaca, NY
Master of Public Administration candidate, Participated 1998 – 2002
Awards/scholarship: Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Merit Scholarship

Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
Bachelor of Arts, Graduated 1994
Major: Black Studies
Studies Abroad: University of Nairobi, Kenya

EXPERIENCE

King County Superior Court, Seattle and Kent, WA Aug. 2018 – present Judge: Managed a civil caseload and presided over all types of civil cases including vehicle collisions, asbestos tort claims, dependencies, breach of contract claims, insurance claims, land use, etc. Decided a variety of motions pertaining to discovery, summary judgment, default, sanctions, etc. Managed a family law caseload and presided over family law matters, primarily involving child custody and support matters.

The Defender Association Division, Seattle, WA Oct. 2002 – present
Misdemeanor Unit Supervisor (May 2016 – present): Manages a team of ten attorneys who practice in Seattle Municipal Court. Helps ensure a high standard of client representation by supervising attorneys both in case preparation and in court. Co-tries cases, discusses investigation, mitigation and trial preparation strategies, and assists in legal analyses of issues with misdemeanor attorneys. Works closely with the team of mitigation specialists and investigators to strengthen the holistic approach to client representation. Identifies and strives to effect systemic, substantive changes both within the misdemeanor unit and within the court system. Meets with judges, head of the probation department, chief clerk and prosecution supervisors on a regular basis to identify and to discuss systemic, practice and policy issues.

Investigation Supervisor (January 2015 – May 2016): Managed team of investigators by providing both leadership and support. Organized and conducted investigation trainings pertaining to witness interviews, the bridge between defense interviews and cross-examination, investigation techniques and social media, and the role of storytelling in investigation. Led team monthly team meetings to discuss and to formulate avenues of growth for the unit.

Staff Attorney (October 2002 – December 2014). Represented both juveniles and adults charged with misdemeanors and felonies, juveniles and adults facing psychiatric hospitalization under the Involuntary Treatment Act, adults facing civil commitment under the Sexually Violent Predators law, and parents and children involved in dependency matters. Acted as solo and lead counsel in bench and jury trials. Successfully argued pre-trial motions to dismiss based upon unlawful searches and seizures, lack of capacity and competency, sufficiency of the evidence and governmental misconduct. Collaborated with experts including both medical and mental health experts in developing mitigation and trial defenses.

Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC Sept. 2001 – Dec. 2001
Legal Extern. Researched and wrote legal memoranda on issues such as search and seizure, suppression of statements, and governmental misconduct. Assisted staff attorneys with trial preparation.

The Defender Association Summer 2001
Legal Intern, Racial Disparity Project. Briefed issues pertaining to the disparate treatment of minorities by Seattle Police Department during drug arrests, assisted in the procedural and substantive planning of a class action lawsuit based upon the systemic maltreatment of minorities by law enforcement, attended coalition meetings to discuss issues minorities face in the criminal justice system and possible solutions.

American Refugee Committee/Legal Aid Center, Mostar, Bosnia Summer 2000
Legal Intern. Provided legal advocacy to displaced persons concerning property reclamation. Submitted briefs to the Human Rights Chamber, a tribunal arising out of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Performed research on gender discrimination in laws, administration of laws, and general Bosnian culture.

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, San Francisco, CA Summer 1999
Legal Intern. Provided referrals, advocacy and other support services for individuals in prison. Edited parental rights manual for inmates with children. Interviewed female inmates about health care, guard brutality, and solitary confinement issues for purposes of prisoner rights litigation.

YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities, New York, New York Jan.1997 – Aug. 1998
Job Developer. Identified and developed employment opportunities for young adults with developmental disabilities. Cultivated connections and training opportunities with prospective employers. Supported the job training counselors who provided employment trainings to clients.

El Centro, Chicago, IL March 1995 – August 1996
VISTA Volunteer. Provided general support for team of teachers and support specialists at a small community center focusing upon providing English as a Second Language and Naturalization classes. Worked closely with staff to provide the most effective support for clientele who were mostly comprised of Latino immigrants.

BAR ADMISSIONS

Admitted to practice in Washington (2002).

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 have never been a prosecutor.

From 2002 to 2018, I worked as a Public Defender for The Defender Association where I was a Staff Attorney, an Investigation Supervisor, Supervisor of the Misdemeanor Unit and Managing Attorney. I managed a team of ten attorneys who practiced in Seattle Municipal Court. As a Staff Attorney, I represented both juveniles and adults charged with misdemeanors and felonies, juveniles and adults facing psychiatric hospitalization under the Involuntary Treatment Act, adults facing civil commitment under the Sexually Violent Predators law, and parents and children involved in dependency matters.

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

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

No; however, I have been serving King County as a Superior Court judge since August 2018.

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

The most important qualifications for a judge are: 1) the willingness and ability to listen to each party carefully and fairly; 2) a strong understanding and knowledge of the law; and 3) insight, empathy and compassion. It is also important for judges to be able to balance the protection of individuals’ constitutional rights (i.e., right to effective representation) with the reality of resource constraints by ensuring that hearings and trials are fair but efficient. Lastly, a judge should have a strong and deep appreciation for the responsibilities and resource constraints that both sides, such as the prosecution and defense, face.

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

It is my belief that at this point in my career, given my lifetime of experience working with disadvantaged communities, my in-depth understanding of the justice system and strong ability to work with all players in the system, I am in a position to make a meaningful contribution to the judiciary. Apparently, the Governor agreed that my experience and perspective would be a valuable asset to our judiciary when he appointed me last year.

My priorities are two-fold: first, to learn from the different communities throughout King County how I can best serve them as a Superior Court Judge; and second, to share with my judicial colleagues my unique perspective and insight having worked closely with a large variety of marginalized communities throughout the past 25 years of my professional career.

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

I have hired a campaign manager/consultant who specializes in judicial campaigns, and I am visiting all the Democratic Legislative District meetings seeking support. In a very short period of time, I have accumulated many endorsements from my judicial colleagues and attorneys who practice regularly in the King County Superior Court.

My campaign will appeal to the voters of King County because they know that racial and economic disparities exist in our justice system (a fact that is absolutely indisputable). Because voters of King County are largely progressive and fair-minded, they condemn this type of disparity and will support me in changing it. While I am the incumbent and currently run unopposed, I am confident that I will remain the most vocal and credible advocate for truly equal justice.

 

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?

Absolutely. It is essential for the public to have access to documents that have been filed in our courts. If there is a barrier, especially a barrier to those who cannot afford to pay for the documents, access is neither full nor equal. While it is understandable that there are associated costs with identifying, finding, accessing and copying requested documentation, that financial cost is outweighed by the importance in a democratic society for transparency of the court.

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

Fairness is the touchstone of our court system. In order to be truly fair, it is imperative that the jury consider evidence presented by the parties and only the parties during a trial. A fair trial requires the complete attention of all jurors, not only during the trial, but also during deliberation. First, accessing information from a smartphone is not only easy but also extremely tempting. It is important for courts to address the use of smartphones directly and repeatedly during a trial, emphasizing that researching trial-related issues independently results in an unfair process and will most likely result in a mistrial, which is costly for everyone involved. An additional way to address smartphones is prohibit jurors from even turning on their phones unless they ask the Court for permission during the trial and during deliberations.

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. Courts must be funded by taxpayers. On the one hand, it is understandably difficult to obtain funding to run a court system well if the funding comes solely from the taxpayers. On the other hand, the Court must make the necessary connections (i.e., with County Council, community-based social service agencies, the Department of Public Defense, the King County Prosecutor’s Office, etc.) and persuade these entities that taxpayer investment, while large, will result in overall financial savings and overall greater protection of the public. It is up to the Court to understand and to explain why greater investment into connections with community-based social service agencies will result in better mental health treatment offered to defendants, more effective chemical dependency treatment offered to defendants, greater stability in terms of employment and housing retention, etc. These connections require an investment in the Court system by taxpayers but the result will be a decrease in criminal behavior.

 

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?

There are a number of ways to improve access to justice:

– First, it is imperative that people who do not speak English as a first language receive interpreters not only during hearings but also during each and every exchange with a probation counselor. Because interactions with probation counselors could most certainly result in requests for warrants and/or jail, a defendant who does not speak English as a first language and does not receive the assistance of an interpreter, does not receive access to the same justice as a person who speaks English fluently. Similarly, it is critical to provide interpreter services for defendants who do not speak English for pre-trial release and other type of programming that helps individuals remain out of jail. Without this improved access, it is unavoidably that the racial and ethnic disparities found in the system today will continue to exist.

– Second, the Court must ensure that hearings and trials occur at a pace that a defendant is able to comprehend. There are a number of reasons why judges must tailor the pace including language barriers, cognitive delays, lack of education, mental illness, unfamiliarity with justice system, etc. Once a judge identifies an appropriate pace of a hearing or trial, it is imperative to maintain control of the courtroom so as to enforce that pace during the proceedings. These might seem like obvious and easy steps to take, but throughout my career as a public defender, I have observed altogether too many proceedings in which these steps were not taken.

– Third, bail practices must be reformed particularly those facing property and drug-related offenses. Even though the Court imposes a relatively low amount of bail, so many of these individuals remain jailed simply because they are poor and therefore cannot afford even the low amount of bail. Due to the incentive to just get released, many of these individuals will plead guilty because that is the fastest way to get out of jail. Poor defendants often collect many convictions — not because they are any guiltier than their wealthy counterparts — but because they do not have the financial resources that their wealthy counterparts do.

– Fourth, courts must play a role in advocating for reduced caseloads for public defenders. Indigent defendants, a large percentage of whom are not highly educated, rely upon their public defenders to be their voices. If public defenders, due to high caseloads, do not have adequate time to learn about their clients’ backgrounds, understand their clients’ perspectives, and fully advise their clients, the gulf between access to justice for poor people and wealthy people widens.

– Fifth, we must diversify juries. Jury pools in King County Superior Court too often do not represent the racial make-up of the general population. This lack of diversity is a program. Studies show that juries which are diverse tend to be more thoughtful before reaching a verdict. People of color – whether they are defendants or members of the general community – must have faith in our justice system. It is only when defendants truly have juries of their peers as promised by the Constitution can we restore that faith.

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

The Black Lives Matter movement is an incredibly important movement. For far too long and far too often, we, as a society, have ignored the way that law enforcement has targeted people of color and specifically, Black individuals. The justice system has too often looked away as this has occurred. While it is uncomfortable and even painful to identify and to focus on the way that Black individuals have been treated historically by the justice system, we are only perpetuating an unequal system if we do so. Only by looking hard at history and current unequal practices, can we better understand why Black individuals and other people of color may distrust law enforcement, defense attorneys, prosecutors, juries, and judges.

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

The judicial system can be more open, transparent, and responsive if:
1. Courts make access to filed documentation truly accessible to the public;
2. Courts are proactive in developing a continuous open dialogue with the County Council and other entities that play a critical role in making funding, policy and program decisions;
3. Judges, especially those who are King County Superior Court judges, are active in the community to inform the public of the Court’s current policies and programs as well as the policies and programs the Court is developing or exploring; and
4. Judges make an effort to get out in the community and interact with immigrant and non-English speaking communities to educate these important parts of our community about the way our justice system works. Too many judges are isolated. I intend to be a part of the community.

 


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

Printed Name: Judge Maureen McKee

Date: 01/29/2019

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