Pierce County Superior Court, Dept. 7 – Matthew Thomas

Judicial Questionnaire

Candidate Information

  • Candidate Name: Matthew Thomas
  • Position Sought: Pierce County Superior Court, Dept. 7 (Non-incumbent)
  • Home Legislative District: 27th District
  • Democrat: The position Non-partisan and, as a judicial candidate, I may not ethically declare a party preference.

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 have served our community both in the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office. In these positions, I have been able to prosecute some of the toughest cases including public corruption, organized crime and drug trafficking, and human trafficking cases. I have also successfully seized and forfeited the proceeds of crime.

I am honored that the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association’s Judicial Qualifications Committee and the Washington Women Lawyers, Pierce County Chapter have rated me exceptionally well qualified for the position of Pierce County Superior Court Judge.

I am also honored to have the respect of the lawyers in our community who awarded me with the Robert J. Bryan Inns of Court Civility Award and elected me President of the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association and Trustee of the Federal Bar Association.

We must keep our justice system independent, strong, ethical, accessible, and fair and to help achieve these goals I volunteer my time as a judge for the University of Washington’s mock trial and moot court programs, serve on the bar foundation for Tacoma Pro Bono (free legal services), teach ethics courses for lawyers, and teach law classes at the University of Washington Tacoma.
I graduated from the University of Washington, School of Law, J.D. (1990) and Washington State University, B.A., Political Science, Foreign Languages, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa (1986, 1987); and, the Universite de Paris Sorbonne, Certificate of French Language and Civilization (1984-85).

I have also voluteered my time by serving as the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association (TPCBA) President (Feb. 2016- Feb. 2017) and as a member of Tacoma Downtown Lions Club; TPCBA Continuing Legal Education Committee; Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Foundation (helps fund Tacoma Pro Bono); and by acting as the historian for my sailing club

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.

WORK EXPERIENCE: Assistant United States Attorney (1996-Present). Handle criminal and civil cases in U.S. District
Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, including public corruption, organized crime and drug trafficking, forfeiture, and human trafficking cases; Part-time Lecturer, University of Washington, Tacoma (Spring Quarter 2013 to Present). I have taught American Criminal Courts and Criminal Law; Resident Legal Advisor, United States Embassy, Managua, Nicaragua (2004-05):
Established an anti-corruption training program in Spanish; Served a detail as Senior Trial Attorney, Narcotic & Dangerous Drug Section, U.S. Department of Justice (1999-2001): Prosecuted major narcotics cases in U.S. District
Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico and managing attorneys and staff; Instructor for the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training, U.S. Department of Justice (2000 to 2012): Taught in Latin America on the U.S. accusatorial trial system; Part-time Lecturer, Pierce College, Lakewood, Washington (1995-2010): Taught Constitutional Rights, Criminal Law, Law & Society, Legal Investigations, Business Law, Administrative Law, and Criminal Procedure; Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Tacoma (1990-96). Lead state prosecutor on task force investigating public corruption.

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 have not worked as a pro tem but I have volunteered my time as a judge for the University of Washington School of Law’s mock trial and moot court programs. I have acted as both a trial and appellate judge in these competitions. What I learned from this experience: I feel at ease acting as a judge in these courtroom settings, just as I do as a lawyer litigating cases in court. This is in part because I am familiar with the Rules of Evidence and Procedure. Also, I feel I am able to set the right tone in the courtroom; I have always gotten along well with my opposing counsel by treating them with dignity, and when acting as a judge I do the same, treating the litigants with respect and dignity.

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

A judge should be ethical, have a good judicial demeanor, treating all the parties with dignity and professionalism, and should be a good listener. The Robert J. Bryan South Sound Inns of Court honored me by giving me the Civility Award. This award is meant to recognize and promote civility, ethics, and professionalism.
A judge should have strong legal ability and writing skills. In my federal court practice, I have frequent opportunities to research and write both at the trial and appellate level. I have successfully written briefs and argued appeals before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals I was fortunate to receive the highest rating of exceptionally well qualified for the position of Superior Court Judge from the the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association’s Judicial Qualifications Committee and Washington Women Lawyers, Pierce County Chapter,
A judge should have a record of public service and a commitment to equality and to access to justice. I served as President of the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association and I serve on the Bar Foundation for Tacoma Pro Bono, which provides free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney.

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

The job matters. We need good judges who will exercise judicial independence and apply the law fairly. That is the sort of judge I hope to be. In my job as a federal prosecutor, I strive to make independent decisions about cases, keeping in mind that my duty is to do justice, not just win cases.
As a judge, I will also promote equal access to justice. Whether rich or poor, every person should have access to our Courts. This is why I serve on the Bar Foundation supporting Tacoma Pro Bono, which provides free legal representation to persons who cannot afford it.
When speaking at a campaign event, I often ask how many members of the audience have served on jury duty. Jury trials are important to maintaining a strong, independent, and fair judiciary. The Pierce County Superior Court judges have done a great job of making sure anyone who wants a trial date will get one; the judges do 18 month rotations handling civil and criminal cases and cases at Remann Hall (juvenile cases). I would like to build on this by making better use of technology such as using text messaging to notify jurors and defendants of court dates.

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

To run a successful campaign in a county-wide race, I am reaching out to as many organizations as possible including neighborhood councils and legislative district organizations. So far, I am seeking and have been endorsed by over a dozen judges and also elected officers. I am seeking the endorsement of legislative district organizations such as yours, law enforcement guilds, and labor. I am seeking support from lawyers and law firms and several are planning receptions on my behalf.

 

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, the public should have access to court files as these files are part of the public record. I believe in transparency in government and that includes the Court. In my work, I avoid filing pleadings under seal unless it is absolutely necessary such as to protect a vulnerable person, prevent identity theft, and as required by court rule. With respect to costs, we should strive to keep them low. My hope is that the ability to provide electronic copies will help our clerk’s office lower the cost of providing public records.

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

Jurors are instructed not to use their smart phones to look up information about the case on which they are serving. In addition, jurors are asked to turn off their phones while they are in court. In my trials, jurors have followed the Court’s instructions and phones have not been an issue.

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?

Judges must decide whether to impose or waive non-mandatory fines and court costs on a case-by -case basis, taking into consideration the defendant’s ability to pay and what is a just and appropriate fine in each particular case. An indigent person may petition the Court to waive court costs. In so much as budget concerns force judges to impose fines and court costs on defendants who are unable to pay them, then relying on court costs alone for funding would not be a good plan. Court imposed fines and costs are not a reliable source of revenue for budgeting. Ultimately, it is the legislature that passes the budget and must decide how best to fund the courts; as the third branch of government, the judiciary benefits from being funded by stable sources of revenue in addition to court costs.
In September 2019, approximately 1000 people signed up go to Court in the County-City Building in Tacoma to have their court ordered financial obligations waived. It was Pierce County’s first Legal Financial Obligation Reconsideration Day. The purpose of this event was to offer the participants a new start. Unpaid court ordered financial obligations can make it difficult for a person to get a driver’s license, get a job, go to school, and otherwise move on to live productive lives.

 

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?

Pierce Count Superior Court does a good job making sure interpreters are available who may assist defendants throughout the proceedings. As I speak Spanish and French, and have taught in Latin America about our testimonial trial system, I recognize the importance of providing legal and language services to parties who may not understand the American justice system. I currently serve on the Bar Foundation, which supports and raises money for access to justice programs such as Tacoma Pro Bono, offering free legal services. Tacoma Pro Bono uses translators and volunteer lawyers who speak foreign languages to ensure competent representation of clients from other countries. We offer a clinic in Spanish. There are several events each year promoting equal access to justice and, as a judge, I will continue to attend and support these events. Also as a judge, I will be in a position to ensure that each defendant is able to understand the legal proceedings.

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

The term Black Lives Matter came to be after a Florida’s jury’s acquittal of neighborhood block watch member, George Zimmerman, who was charged with murdering an unarmed African American teenager named Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter has become a social justice movement advocating for the civil rights of African Americans and especially advocating for equal protection under the laws in the context of criminal justice. In 2016, while I was President of the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association and chair of the editorial board of the Pierce County Lawyer magazine, we put together a feature story entitled “Your Voice Matters” in which we invited African American leaders including an African American Pierce County Superior Court Judge, a local church minister and community leader as well as law enforcement officials, including the Pierce County Sheriff, Pierce County Prosecutor, and Tacoma Police Chief to write about issues surrounding the deaths of unarmed African Americans during contacts with law enforcement officers and the deaths of police officers in the line duty. Our hope was to encourage a thoughtful conversation that would lead to positive change. The Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association received very good feedback about this issue.

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

The Pierce County Superior Court does a good job of being open and transparent and responsive as required by law and the Rules of Professional Conduct. To continue and improve upon this, I would like to see the Court make the best use of technology. As I mentioned above, technology such as phone messaging, could help the Court be more responsive to the needs of jurors so jurors may more quickly inform their employers as to whether or not they need to be absent from work for jury duty. Phone messaging of court dates could also help the Court be more responsive to litigants by sending reminders and letting litigants know as soon as possible about trial scheduling issues. If elected, I will help the Court work to be user friendly to include making it easy for pro se litigants to access the Court.

 


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

Printed Name: Matthew Thomas

Date: 02/23/2020

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