Community Q&A: Yakima County Superior Court Judge Gayle Harthcock | Local

For Yakima County Superior Court Judge Gayle Harthcock, court was last adjourned on Wednesday.

Harthcock, who was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2014 by Gov. Jay Inslee, has retired. Prior to her appointment, she served as a court commissioner for six years, hearing all but jury cases in Superior Court.

Presiding Judge Richard Bartheld said Harthcock will be missed.

“Gayle has been really instrumental in keeping up with changes in the law and organizing training courses for judges,” Bartheld said. “She was hosting learning lunches and explaining what we should be looking for.”

While coming from a background in family law, Harthcock handled several high-profile cases, including a public records case involving allegations of an illegal vote by Selah Town Council and a brutal homicide of Granger. .

Sonia Rodriguez True, commissioner of the tribunal, has been appointed to replace Harthcock.

A native of Omak, Harthcock graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and earned a law degree from the University of Puget Sound School of Law. She clerked for a judge on the Alaska Court of Appeals and worked as an attorney in Alaska, Seattle and Yakima.

The following has been edited for clarity and space.

What brought you to a career in law?

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to observe at the Okanogan County District Attorney’s Office. This lawyer took me under his wing and took me to courtrooms and to the Spokane Court of Appeals. He, his wife and I went there and we witnessed an argument in which he took part. I think that was the start. It gave me the opportunity to do something other than my schoolwork. It was really interesting as a teenager to see these things and realize that you could make a career out of them.

At that time, were you thinking of becoming a judge?

At that time, I just wanted to go to college and see where my career would take me then.

How did you decide to move from the status of lawyer to that of magistrate?

I had a private practice here in Yakima for a number of years, and there was a job offer for a full-time commissioner with the court in 2008. I got a call from the judge (Ruth ) Reukauf encouraging me to apply. I received a call from Commissioner (Robert) Inouye encouraging me to apply. It wasn’t something I had really considered until then. I had done a number of jobs (as a temporary judge) in different courts, so they knew my job. So I applied and got the job, and that’s how it started.

How was your transition from lawyer to judge?

My practice was mainly adoptions and guardianships and some work. It wasn’t really heavy in litigation. I don’t think I’ve had as much trouble transitioning as maybe some of the other people who come in as trial counsel and come into the bench. Because I had pro-temmed and therefore I had the opportunity to do it before becoming a full-time judicial officer.

It’s always a challenge for all of us. Because we always want to get things done. When you become a judge, you realize that the victory belongs to one of the parties and not to the judge. You must remain neutral and listen to both parties before making your decision based on the facts and the law.

What do you think is the most memorable case you’ve heard, and why?

A number of criminal cases come to mind, criminal jury trials, but I can’t comment on some of them because they’re still before the appellate court. The one that was decided by the appeal court was (the murder trial of Jaime Munguia Alejandre). This was probably the most memorable for me and some of the jurors because it’s hard not to see some of these photographs (evidence). I used to work for the Alaska Court of Appeals and that was another thing, we would see these kinds of photographs in the file, and it’s so hard not to see things. I think of the effect it had on the children of the family, just discovering the body in this way. It was hard for everyone. I also felt for the people in the courtroom who had to watch this repeatedly.

Another case that was interesting was a medical malpractice case. It had to do with a back repair, and the lawyers on both sides were great. Lawyers on both sides were so well prepared and willing to work with each other.

What is one thing you would like people to know about the justice system?

I think there’s one thing about the justice system, it’s what we have, it’s the best we have and it’s our constitutional system. This does not mean that errors cannot be made by judges. We’re just people and I was talking to one of the appeal court judges recently, and he just reiterated that across the board. We are all human. We come to work, we put on our shoes one by one like anyone else. We do the best we can, but it’s perfect.

How do you maintain your work-life balance?

I do a number of things. I have a close relationship with my family, and I make sure the focus is on them when I’m with them and the focus is on work when I’m at work. I am also a regular Y member and usually go to the Y a few times a week. When the Y was downtown, we had a group of friends. A federal court judge, a district court judge, and myself and we would visit each other during the lunch hour to talk about the news and what people were doing. It’s always been refreshing for me to get out there and think about things that don’t involve work.

I just like to do art, gardening, walking and hiking. Right now, I’m doing acrylic casting. It’s really fun and messy, so it’s cathartic. I have also worked over the years on hot glass making lampwork beads.

What are your plans for the future?

The plan is to perfect the art of doing nothing. I relax for a while, then I travel, spend time with family and friends, and work on my art.

About Jessica J. Bass

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