Thurston County Connection Newsletter
Thurston County Connection
Thurston County Connection
December, 2014
Subscribe to Newsletter
Search Past Articles
Browse Available Editions
County Connection
The Website
This Month's Articles

Changes at Thurston County Superior Court

(More) Changes at Thurston County Superior Court

County Benefits from “JBLM Day of Service”

It’s official!

Health Systems Doing a Good Job of Tracking Illnesses

Families Welcome New Members

Perfection is Reality for County Waste Water Treatment Plant

Less Leftovers, More Joy

The Klondike Kings and the telegraph to nowhere

Thurston County Home
Send Editorial Feedback
to John Tennis
Problems using this site?
Contact the Webmaster
Website Disclaimer
 Meet Superior Court Judge Lisa Sutton.

A history of service and community connections.

The law, for many of us, is a static thing residing in dense, leather-bound tomes. For those like Thurston County Superior Court Judge Lisa Sutton who are involved with justice on a daily basis, the law is a living, constantly evolving phenomenon. Take, for example, search and seizure issues.

“I’m constantly getting publications of new cases,” says Judge Sutton, who was appointed to the court last fall, “Search and seizure is being refined all the time. When I’m not in court, I’m studying law and guidelines.” Her current research includes an online course from retired King County District Court Judge Robert McBeth, considered the “guru of search and seizure law” in Washington State. The matter is hardly an esoteric subject. “It’s critical to know the boundaries and what’s appropriate. It’s important to know the rights a citizen has when approached by law enforcement,” says Sutton.

Search and seizure is just one of many complex issues a judge has to consider. Others include cameras in the courtroom, how to handle contempt of court incidents, sentencing guidelines, setting trial dates and arraignments and many, many more. “There’s an immense amount of information to process,” says Sutton, adding with a laugh, “I always did like school. Well, I’m back in school, big time!”

“After the many years you’ve spent working in front of the bench,” I ask Judge Sutton, “what’s it like to be on the other side?” “Fascinating,” she says with great enthusiasm, “Fascinating!” But, she adds, it’s also a huge responsibility. She points to a framed pictured on the wall. Painted by her granddaughter Ariel, age 10, the picture (see photo) is of a courtroom in session, Judge Sutton presiding. Ariel presented the painting to her grandmother with the following advice, “Take it seriously!”

Taking public service “seriously,” but with keen enjoyment, is what Sutton has been doing ever since the 9th grade when her favorite class was civics, and her teacher stood on his desk to lecture. “Oh, we listened!” she says. That was in Camp Springs, Maryland. With a father in the Air Force, (he flew the backup plane to Air Force One), Sutton’s childhood homes included stays in New Jersey, California and Alaska, where she graduated from high school.

She came to Washington to attend Pacific Lutheran University where she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in psychology. Sutton returned to school to study at the Seattle University School of Law, graduating in 1985 and passing the bar the next year. Soon after, she began work at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. As a senior trial attorney in the Torts Division, she represented the state in a variety of civil cases, including two significant class action law suits. One of these, Tunstall vs. Bergeson (2000), went to the Washington Supreme Court, where the position represented by Sutton and her team prevailed.

“I was very fortunate,” says Sutton of her 24-year service with the state, “to have worked under three great attorney generals: Ken Eikenberry, Christine Gregoire and Rob McKenna.”

In addition to trial work, Sutton also served as a pro tem Family Court commissioner for Thurston County Superior Court. She also advised state agencies on legal matters and trained agency clients on litigation procedures, an experience that now provides some irony. “I helped train people in risk management on how to avoid going to court,” she says, “and now I’m in court!”

Sutton has devoted her free time to the following organizations: the Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services Clinic as an attorney and family law mentor; the local YMCA Briggs Branch (where she continues to serve as a board member and participates in the YMCA’s annual Youth & Government Mock Trial competition); the Attorney General’s Domestic Violence Awareness Committee, and the Capital City Marathon. She recently joined the United Way Women’s Leadership Council to donate her time.

What are the attributes of a good judge?

“You have to listen acutely,” says Sutton. “You have to really listen to all parties. Defendants are entitled to rights and respect. If they’re representing themselves, I make sure they understand the process and why I make certain decisions. They don’t have to like the decision, but I want to make sure they understand it.”

Patience is another quality she values. “Not everyone knows how to tell their story in court. At every stage of the process, I want to make sure the defendant’s rights are granted. This is especially so in criminal cases, where the defendant’s liberty is at stake.” says Sutton. Demeanor and impartiality are also key attributes, as is punctuality.

Shortly after being appointed by Governor Gregoire to succeed former Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks, Sutton attended the state’s Judicial College. The week-long, intensive course, conducted by the Office of the Administrator for the Courts, is mandatory for all newly appointed and elected judges. Then there’s another online Judicial College course, followed by a two-week intensive training at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.

“Take the opportunity to visit other judge’s courts as much as you can,” advises Sutton who has observed many Drug Court graduations and proceedings. In November, she also took the time to visit Veterans Court in Pierce County Superior Court. Presided over by Judge Gary Steiner, Veteran’s Court was the twenty-third drug court of its kind in the nation and is highly regarded. “It was an amazing, powerful experience,” she says. “Judge Steiner was very supportive. I went away thinking, ‘This program makes a difference.’ ”

Congratulations on your appointment, Judge Sutton, and thank you for making a huge difference in our courts and our community!

By Keith Eisner

Superior Court Judge Lisa Sutton. Superior Court Judge Lisa Sutton.

Court in session, Judge Sutton presiding. Court in session, Judge Sutton presiding.