King County Superior Court, Position 26 – David Keenan

Judicial Questionnaire

Candidate Information

  • Candidate Name: David Keenan
  • Position Sought: King County Superior Court, Position 26 (Incumbent)
  • Home Legislative District: 37
  • Democrat: Unfortunately, the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits me from answering this question.

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.

Judge Keenan joined the King County Superior Court bench in January 2017, and presides over criminal and civil trials. Judge Keenan brings a unique perspective to the bench, having grown up in poverty and interacted with the judicial system as a young man.

Prior to being elected, Judge Keenan worked in complex civil litigation at the global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, where he litigated cases in state and federal court. As an attorney, Judge Keenan frequently represented marginalized communities free of charge in civil rights matters, and has argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 2011, at age 41, Judge Keenan became the oldest person ever to receive the Washington State Bar Association’s Outstanding Young Lawyer Award.

In addition to his pro bono work, Judge Keenan previously served on several boards in the non-profit, legal, and public sectors. Until taking the bench, Judge Keenan served as Board President at Northwest Justice Project, which is Washington’s largest provider of civil legal aid to low-income people, as well as on the Board of TeamChild, which provides civil legal aid to vulnerable youth. In addition, Judge Keenan served on the Washington Supreme Court’s Civil Legal Needs Study Committee in 2015 and 2016.

As President of the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Washington in 2016, Judge Keenan served on merit selection committees for the reappointment of a United Sates Magistrate Judge and for the appointment of a United States Bankruptcy Judge. Judge Keenan also previously served on the Washington State Bar Association’s Judicial Recommendation Committee and the Bar’s Character and Fitness Board.

In 2014, while still a practicing attorney, Judge Keenan was appointed by the Mayor of Seattle to the Seattle Community Police Commission, where Judge Keenan helped represent the community in police accountability reform under a consent decree between the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice.

Though Judge Keenan was forced to withdraw from much of his work on civil legal aid and criminal justice reform when he was elected, he remains an active member of the Community Leaders Roundtable of Seattle, which oversees the 180 Program, an effort dedicated to keeping youth out of King County’s juvenile justice system.

Before becoming an attorney, Judge Keenan spent nearly 15 years as a federal law enforcement agent. Judge Keenan worked full-time as a Senior Special Agent with the federal government, investigating crimes such as money laundering and human trafficking, while attending law school at night, graduating summa cum laude from Seattle University School of Law, where he was named the Dean’s Medalist.

Judge Keenan grew up in Seattle, where he spent much of his youth living on welfare and a public housing subsidy. Judge Keenan was actually charged as a juvenile defendant in King County Superior Court and was repeatedly suspended from the Seattle Public Schools before dropping out of high school and eventually earning his GED. Judge Keenan credits caring mentors for helping him redirect his life and for his eventual path to the judiciary.

Judge Keenan sits on the King County Superior Court’s Courts and Community, Budget, and Volunteer committees, and on the Superior Court Judges’ Association’s Legislative Committee.

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.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Senior Associate; March 2009 to January 2017.
King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; Special Deputy Prosecutor; August 2015.

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?

As a judge, I do perform settlement conferences.

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

Prior to being elected, I served as a judge pro tempore in King County District Court and Federal Way Municipal Court. Serving in courts of limited jurisdiction was a very valuable experience because I was constantly in contact with the community and could see firsthand their struggles with respect to access to justice.

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

Humility. Judges are among the last true generalists in the law, and yet I cannot know every area of civil and criminal laws. Being a trial judge has helped me be humble about what I do not know, to ask the lawyers and parties to help me understand their arguments, to be willing to be told that I am wrong, and to be willing to change my mind.

Work ethic. As a trial judge with no law clerks, no interns, and no externs, I am the only one reading the pleadings, doing the research, and drafting the orders. I have always had a strong work ethic, and I have further developed that work ethic as a trial judge, often spending nights and weekends reading the hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages of material I receive (for example, on motions for summary judgment in complex civil cases and appeals), and spending Saturdays and Sundays in the courthouse to do the research and writing that I think the parties deserve.

Intellectual curiosity. Given that trial judges oversee cases in nearly every conceivable area of the law, it helps to be genuinely intellectually curious. As a trial judge, I take a deep intellectual interest in every case that comes before me, whether it is a wrongful death claim or shooting where there are millions of dollars or a lengthy prison sentence at stake, or an appeal from a growth management hearings board or other state administrative agency on a permit or license.

Respect for procedural justice. As a trial judge, I work to ensure that the parties feel heard, understood, and that they had a meaningful say in the outcome. There is power in being able to address a court. By treating people with dignity and remembering that there are real people behind every case, no matter how big or small, people will feel better about the outcome, regardless of the result.

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

I ran for office in 2016 because I wanted to bring my unique background to the court, particularly around the issues of civil legal aid for low-income people, juvenile justice, and ending debtor’s prisons; I am still committed to those issues as I run for reelection in 2020.

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

As I did in 2016, I am campaigning in for endorsements from all seventeen King County Democratic legislative districts; I won endorsements from all seventeen in 2016, and hope to again in 2020.

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, I do support this. Court fees can present a tremendous barrier to access to justice.

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

We instruct jurors that they may not research the facts or the law for any reason, including through the use of smart phones; that is necessary to ensure the parties receive a fair 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?

I would like to see Washington move away from user-funded services, because it presents a barrier to access to justice. I would prefer to see the Legislature fund the courts, such that courts can reduce (or eliminate) reliance on user fees.


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?

Among the many barriers to access to justice today are: (1) individual and institutional bias; (2) insufficient civil legal aid; (3) insufficient aid for crime victims; (4) imposition of legal financial obligations on indigent defendants; (5) insufficient pretrial release options; (6) insufficient options in the juvenile justice system; and (6) insufficient use of and access to technology.

Individual and institutional bias pose significant barriers to access to justice. Bias manifests at every juncture in the school-to-prison pipeline. Individuals of color (particularly women and girls of color), members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, and low-income individuals often face arrest in disproportionate numbers in their communities, are more frequently charged with crimes, are charged with more crimes, are held pretrial in greater numbers, are more often incarcerated, and face tremendous challenges when reentering the community from a period of incarceration in accessing housing, employment, credit, and healthcare. I have seen this as a judge, where, for example, presiding over mostly criminal trials at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, the majority of defendants were people of color; in contrast, the majority of jurors where white. A good deal of work is being doing by entities like the Minority and Justice Commission and judges in King County and throughout the State around bias; by definition, this work will never be complete. I have tried to be a part of solutions, for example, in my work on the Access to Justice Board and the Choose 180 Board, and by engaging with marginalized communities and diverse law students and attorneys.

In addition, the lack of a civil Gideon poses a tremendous barrier to access to justice. The U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Gideon v. Wainwright led to (near) universal court-appointed representation for indigent defendants in criminal cases. Yet, when individuals are facing the loss of a child (e.g., in a dissolution proceeding), or their home or their job, they are generally not entitled to appointed counsel. I see this as a judge in the number of self-represented litigants trying to navigate the complexities of civil litigation and trial, especially in family law. In King County, some two-thirds of those living in poverty now reside outside of Seattle, and in the two years I spent as a judge in the Maleng Regional Justice Center in the city of Kent, I saw many self-represented litigants. Moreover, as a member of the Washington Supreme Court’s Civil Legal Needs Study Update Committee, we oversaw a study reflecting that, among the many low-income Washington residents who experience a civil legal need, nearly two-thirds of them do nothing about it because they do not have access to counsel. As a former board president at Washington’s largest provider of civil legal aid to low-income people, and now as a member of the board charged with coordinating the efforts of Washington’s civil legal aid providers, I am working with many others to address the barriers presented by insufficient civil legal aid.

A lack of meaningful aid for crime victims, along with the onerous imposition of legal financial obligations on defendants present substantial barriers to access to justice. The current restitution system needlessly pits victims against defendants, when both lose in most cases. Most defendants in criminal cases are indigent, and imposing large restitution amounts at 12 percent interest means in most cases that those defendants will remain under the court’s jurisdiction in perpetuity without ever gaining the ability to pay what is owed. Relatedly, victims are left without compensation and only the remote hope that the court and clerk might eventually recover some de minimis amount. I see this as a judge, where I impose mandatory fees and restitution on individuals who I know will be unable to pay (I am able to waive discretionary fees and costs), and where victims have false hope of recovery. I try to address these issues, for example, as the Superior Court Judges Association Liaison to the Legal Financial Obligations Consortium, where we meet with stakeholders on all sides of the issues to work towards solutions.

Insufficient pretrial release options pose a barrier to access to justice. While pretrial release is presumed in most cases, money bail is often a poor proxy for risk, and recently-developed risk assessment tools can be problematic to the extent that they rely on metrics which themselves may disproportionately affect, for example, people of color. In addition, many defendants could benefit from services while out of custody pending trial, but there is seldom the budget to provides those services (e.g., concerning access to chemical dependency treatment, assistance with housing, and access to physical and mental healthcare).

The current juvenile criminal justice system presents a barrier to access to justice. As it is mostly constituted today, the juvenile criminal justice system still relies too heavily on incarceration. In the school-to-prison pipeline, being born a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ community, an immigrant or refugee, or low-income, makes it more likely that one will face things like school discipline and early justice-system involvement. Juvenile justice system involvement is a predictor of adult justice system involvement. I see this as a judge when I sentence young adults and juveniles who have been auto-declined into the adult system. At sentencing, I can look at a person’s criminal history and see how they went from juvenile misdemeanors to juvenile felonies to their first period in juvenile detention and then to adult felonies. I serve on the Board of Choose 180, which works with prosecutors to divert juveniles away from the system before they are charged. Other programs, like Community Passageways, look to restorative justice approaches such as peacemaking circles as alternatives to incarceration for juveniles. More recently, we have expanded the Choose 180 program to work with young adults ages 18-25, acknowledging that adolescent brain development extends beyond age 18.

Slow progress on using technology and inadequate access to technology present barrier to access to justice. Washington does not have a unified court system, which means that counties often have different forms and varying levels of online access. While some progress has been made (notably, in automating certainly family law forms), much work remains. In addition, even assuming greater online access and automation, individuals living in poverty, with language barriers, and in rural communities still face challenges in accessing technology to meaningfully access the justice system.

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

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” means to me that black lives should matter, but for the entire history our country–from slavery to Jim Crow to the new Jim Crow, they have not mattered as much as white lives. As a judge, I work for a system that is not just equal, but equitable, to proclaim that black lives do matter.

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

To enhance equal access to justice, judges have a responsibility to address their own biases and work towards the elimination of bias in the criminal and civil justice systems. Judges should train and teach in the areas of explicit and implicit bias, and embrace efforts to instruct juries on bias. Judges should support entities like the Minority and Justice Commission, Gender and Justice Commission, Interpreter Commission, and diverse bar association and community-based organizations which seek to educate the legal community concerning bias and elevate the voices of individuals who have been historically marginalized and had worse outcomes in the justice system.

To enhance equal access to justice, judges have a responsibility to mentor youth, law students, and lawyers in order to help build a pipeline of lawyers, legal professionals, and judges who reflect the community—particularly communities of color, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrant and refugee communities, and low-income communities. To help accomplish this, judges should engage with community-based organizations (like Choose 180, where I am a board member), speak at schools, speak at colleges and law schools, engage with diverse student organizations, support bar associations representing diverse groups (e.g., ABAW, FLOW, KABAW, LBAW, Loren Miller, MELAW, QLaw, SABAW, VABAW, WWL, and others) and mentor their members, support the Judicial Institute, and overall encourage individuals from underrepresented communities to consider the legal profession and the judiciary as career options.

To enhance equal access to justice, judges have a responsibility to ensure that a lack of money does not prevent individuals from accessing the justice system. Particularly in the civil justice system, the inability to afford an attorney is a tremendous barrier to equal access to justice for low-income individuals. The 2015 Civil Legal Needs Study demonstrated that (1) the majority of low-income Washington residents have civil legal needs, and (2) the majority of those individuals do not get counsel or otherwise do anything to address those civil legal needs. It follows that judges should support Legal Foundation of Washington, the Access to Justice Board (where I am a board member), and bar associations and other organizations that assist with the provision of civil legal aid to low-income people.


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

Printed Name: David Keenan

Date: 01/21/2020

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