Conversations at KCTS 9/Gerry Alexander

Conversations at KCTS 9: Gerry Alexander Episode 4/15/12
  • Conversations at KCTS 9

Gerry Alexander

We talk with retired Chief Justice of the Washington state Supreme Court, Gerry Alexander, about his judicial career. He was the longest serving Chief Justice in state history.

  • About
  • Transcript

About the Episode

We talk with retired Chief Justice of the Washington state Supreme Court, Gerry Alexander, about his judicial career.

About Gerry Alexander

Gerry Alexander is a retired Chief Justice of the Washington state Supreme Court. He spent more than 38 years as a superior court, appeals court, and state supreme court Justice, becoming the longest serving Chief Justice in state history.

Enrique Cerna:
Gerry Alexander, welcome to Conversations. Thank you so much for being here.

Gerry Alexander:
Thank you, Enrique, for having me.

Enrique:
My pleasure. Well, how's retirement?

Gerry:
Well, it's been pretty busy so far. I'm still, I'm in pro tem status at the court on any case that we've heard that the supreme court heard argument prior to my retirement on December 31st. So I go by the temple of justice early in the morning and attend to matters there for about an hour or so. And then I go over to the office in Olympia, and during the winter quarter, I taught a course for the university of Washington law school in Olympia. It's a course for UW law students who are working in Olympia as interns with state government. And so that was a lot of fun. And an enjoyable experience. So I've been staying pretty busy.

Enrique:
I was going to say, so much for retirement.

Gerry:
Since December 31st.

Enrique:
Do you miss the daily trek that you had for so many years going to the temple of justice and being part of that unique group on the supreme court?

Gerry:
I do miss parts of it. Although I'm very excited about going back into the practice of law in Olympia, my hometown, where I started in practice about 48 years ago. So that's been very energizing for me. But I miss my colleagues on the supreme court. I loved the temple of justice, as I mentioned, I was raised in Olympia, my father worked for state government. I love that state capitol campus. And I miss going up there from time to time. And in fact, when I get in my car to go to work, the car starts to go up to the Capitol Hill rather than over to the west Olympia, where my law office is.

Enrique:
You never really left home.

Gerry:
I never left home. I was raised in Olympia, born in Aberdeen, we moved to Olympia when I was 6 years old because my father went to work for state government. And so Olympia is my blood. I love the city and town. And have many connections there. So I'm very happy right now.

Enrique:
You were the longest serving chief justice.

Gerry:
That's right. I became chief justice in 2001 and I served through 2010. And that was nine years. That may not seem like a long time, but it was twice as long as anybody had ever, a little bit more than twice as long than anybody else had ever served as a chief justice. And I'm proud of that fact. My colleagues elected me to three four year terms. I voluntarily chose to step down as chief justice early, as sort of a nod to the new chief justice, Barbara Madsen. Barbara and I are good friends and we work well together. And I just thought it would be good to spend my last two years on the supreme court as an associate justice and assist her in any way that I could. So I didn't complete my third four year term.

Enrique:
Does that bother you that you couldn't complete it?

Gerry:
Well, it bothered me that I couldn't finish my last term on the court, which is a six year term. But I knew that in the election in 2006 that I couldn't. And that I could only fulfill five of the six years. And it bothered me when I couldn't fulfill my term, but I ran into the mandatory retirement provision, which is in our state constitution, which says that judges of the superior court and judges of the supreme court must retire at the end of the year that they turn 75. I turned 75 in April of 2011. So that meant on December 31st, 2011, I had to leave the court.

Enrique:
How did you feel about that, that mandatory age? You're still vibrant and sharp.

Gerry:
I had a bit of heartburn about it. I've been pretty open about the fact that I don't like these mandatory retirement provisions, particularly in an elective office. I think leave it to the voters. If the voters think that someone who's approaching 75 is, should be voted out for that reason, or has lost a step, then leave that to the voters. But it's in our constitution. And interestingly, there were a couple of bills in the legislature this session for a joint resolution to amend the constitution, but they didn't pass.

Enrique:
Did you go and testify on them?

Gerry:
I did. I testified for a bill that would have changed the mandatory retirement age for district court judges. They're not mentioned in the constitution, there's a statute though that says district court judges must retire at the end of their 75th year. So that can be changed without amending the constitution. And district court judges association asked me if I'd go over and testify. You bet.
[LAUGHTER]
I'm the only one that's going to admit it! And I sense that a lot of legislators agree with me, but there were a lot of other fish to fry down there in Olympia this legislative session. And I think it just kind of got, didn't have the momentum. But I suspect eventually that they'll come back to that. And one reason they should, there is no mandatory retirement age for persons in the legislative branch or state elected officials in the executive branch. And so I mean, we could have a Governor that was 100 years old if the people wanted to elect that person to be Governor. So I say why should the judiciary be in a different situation?

Enrique:
And why did they come up with that age?

Gerry:
Well, I got interested in this question. It wasn't in the original 1889 constitution that the citizens of the territory voted on when we became the 42nd state. It was added in 1952, and I wondered what happened in 1952 that caused this constitutional amendment? As near as I can understand it, there was a judge on the superior court in this county who was very prominent, he had been mayor of Seattle early in the 20th century, was on the board of regents at the university of Washington, he eventually became a superior court judge and was a very fine judge as I understand it. But he wouldn't retire. He went on until he was 94 years of age. And apparently, he was somewhat disabled by his age. But he couldn't lose an election because he was such an icon in the community. And that was a time when King County didn't have 50 whys like they do today on the superior court. They probably had 12 or 13, something like that. And after he retired, they felt that they needed an amendment to the constitution to prevent that from happening again.

Enrique:
Would you rather have it amended so that, okay, if you hit the retirement age, but you still are in your term, that you could at least finish out your term?

Gerry:
That would be my second choice. I guess my first choice would be just do away with the retirement age, mandatory retirement age, and leave it to the voters. But the second step down from that would be to say, if a person is elected to a position on the court when they're under 75, they should be able to finish their term. And that is a step that I think might be more palatable to the legislators as opposed to doing it away with it.

Enrique:
Federal judge is a lifetime appointment.

Gerry:
Justice John Paul stevens just recently retired from the U.S. supreme court at age 90, and by all accounts, he's sharp as a tack. He's going around making speeches, he's written a book. And so, but, they're not elected. So you don't have the same ability in the public to vote them out of office if they have kind of gone over the age.

Enrique:
At what age did you know that that was something that you wanted to do?

Gerry:
When I was in high school, people, you know, they would ask you what do you want to be when you grow up? And I usually always put lawyer. But I really didn't think about it very much. And I used to go to the session when they had people come in from the community on vocational day, I would usually go listen to the lawyers. And I went on to the university of Washington, and I majored in history. And again, I wasn't thinking too much about what I wanted to do. That was during the cold war, we had the draft. So I was in ROTC and I went in the army for three years after I graduated at the university of Washington. And it was there at that time under the then existing uniform code of military justice, regular army officers could represent either the government or a defendant in special court martials. That would be like a person charged with petty larceny or absent without leave. So we were assigned, the defense attorneys or prosecutors, we weren't lawyers, but I just loved doing it, and we officers used to really knock ourselves out going to bat for the G.I. that was charged with an offense. And that kind of piqued my interest. And so I applied for the university of Washington law school when I was stationed actually at fort Lewis and was accepted. And so I credit my military experience as generating the interest to become a lawyer. And I'm happy I had that experience.

Enrique:
At what point did you think you might want to be a judge?

Gerry:
Well, I practiced law privately for nine years in Olympia. And during that time, it wasn't really, I didn't obsess about wanting to be a judge. But I kind of in the back of my mind, I thought maybe if someday there's an opening, I would like to aspire to it. And as it turned out, our superior court judicial district, which was then a two county judicial district, mason and Thurston County, had three superior court judges, and the legislature added a fourth. And some lawyers in town who I respected came to me and said they'd like me to seek the appointment from Governor evans, who was our Governor at the time. And so I talked to a few people. And decided to submit my name for consideration by the Governor. And lo and behold, the Governor appointed me and I became the fourth, the judge of the fourth department of the Thurston mason county superior court. So it just kind of came up and I thought I'm going to grab the brass ring while it's there.

Enrique:
Being a judge, what did that mean to you? Obviously, something that it developed, you had the opportunity, you got the appointment. But what did it mean to you?

Gerry:
You know, I loved it from the very beginning. I enjoyed practicing law, but I really have always felt more comfortable as the decision maker rather than the advocate. And so it fit my, I think it fit my personality. And I enjoyed being a superior court judge. I served on that court for 11 years. And then went to the state court of appeals. And then later to the supreme court. 38 1/2 years total as a judge in this state. And I, I loved every minute of it, I really did. And I couldn't have been happier in a career choice than I was, the one I made in 1973 when I sought that judicial appointment.

Enrique:
There's a political side.

Gerry:
Yes, there is.

Enrique:
You got to run for it. 2006, you had a very nasty reelection campaign, you faced a very strong opponent who was backed by the building industry association of Washington. Conservative group that always put lots of money into people that they supported, I believe the guy's name was John Groen. In fact, we interviewed you on KCTS and had a debate.

Gerry:
Yes.

Enrique:
They hit you hard.

Gerry:
Although I had actually gotten along well with John Groen. I've always thought if you're, you know, this is an elected position, and I don't think as a judge we can moan about the fact that somebody is running against you because we voluntarily, nobody put a gun to our head to make us become a judge. It's an elected position and people have the right to run against you. So I never felt any personal animosity toward him. I thought that was his absolute right to run. But the campaign was a stressful one for me, I have to say that.

Enrique:
They ran some ads that were pretty brutal in how they hit you, and they were really hitting you hard about your age and your time on the court.

Gerry:
Right. There was one that I kind of laughed at it when I first saw it, but then it sort of bothered me. It was this off camera voice said, you know, you get up there, you lose a step, and you become forgetful and so on. Take judge Alexander, for instance.
[LAUGHTER]
And I certain of laughed about it at the time because I didn't feel like I was suffering any dementia or anything of that sort. But then it went on, the ad went on to say he can't finish his term, because I could only finish five of the six year term for the reasons I mentioned earlier. And so those, that did get my attention. And I always felt all along I would be reelected. But I started to get a little bit anxious about it when ads like that started. And they were running a lot. My wife's here today in the studio. And she and I went to a movie in Olympia, we're movie buffs. And there was an ad in the movie theater.
[LAUGHTER]
Just totally ruined the movie experience for me. And then we were driving up to Seattle through Fife, and they have those big billboards, and one of them is like a television set, and there was an ad on there about my opponent. So his campaign was much better funded than was mine. So it got my, got my attention.

Enrique:
Well, how did you feel about that? I mean obviously, it's an elected office, and as you said, nobody put a gun to your head to run.

Gerry:
Well, it was stressful. But, on the other hand, on the other side of it, it is energizing. I've told young judges, you know, go into it a judicial campaign with the idea that this is going to be a good life experience, don't go into it moaning and groaning about the fact that somebody's running against you or that you have to run for election. Try to make it a good life experience. And I found the experience at my age, I was then 69, and I was I guess 70 when I was sworn into the office. But during that campaign, I was 69. And I, ah, I found it energizing. You go around the state. You meet a lot of nice people. Went into the old area where you were raised over in Wapato and sunnyside.

Enrique:
Yeah.

Gerry:
On over to Pullman and up to Lynden, Washington, and wherever you're invited. And you learn a lot about your state, you learn a lot about the people in the state. And I think it's, it's good for judges to get out of the ivory tower periodically.

Enrique:
Get out of the temple.

Gerry:
Get out of the temple and see the people whose cases collectively, are going to have the cases that you're going to be ruling on. So I think it's a good experience, even though it was a bit stressful for me. For me, it turned out fine, I was reelected.

Enrique:
Yeah, you were. Let's talk about what was probably the most high profile case that you dealt with on the court, and that had to do with the defense of marriage.

Gerry:
Yes.

Enrique:
And you were part of the majority, it was a 5 4 ruling that upheld that. You took some shots on that one too as well from the gay community and others that were supportive of, you know, gay rights and gay marriage, which is now signed into law in this state, but also as we speak, is also going to likely be on the ballot and be challenged in this state. I guess, how do you separate the personal view on something like that to the law?

Gerry:
Well, I have to say that during the 17 years I was on the supreme court, there was more interest in that case I think than in any other case that we had. And we knew that going in. And we knew that there would be a lot of interest, and in fact, on the day of argument, our courtroom was just jammed. We had set up extra chairs out in the foyer. And the united church across capitol way had made their church available with television sets in there, because all of our hearings are televised gavel to gavel. And there were also television sets set up in the legislative building. And that fortified what we had already believed, that there would be a lot of interest in the case. But all of a sudden, the court, those of us in the majority and those of us in the dissent, tried to rule on the case dispassionately, not have emotion rule the day and rule on the case based on the law as we understood it and the facts. The majority of the dissent disagreed on the law, the majority upheld the defense of marriage act against the challenge that it violated the privilege and immunities clause in our state constitution. But we, but justice madsen, now our chief justice, who wrote the majority opinion, and myself in the concurring opinion, made it clear that we weren't ruling as a policy matter, we were ruling on the law, that there was nothing we said in that opinion which should be taken as saying that the legislature or the people cannot broaden the definition of marriage. And that has actually occurred. And the people are going to have their say because there's a referendum to basically repeal that statute.

Enrique:
Where do you stand on that now?

Gerry:
Well, I was asked on that by Austin Jenkins.

Enrique:
My buddy Austin.

Gerry:
Down in Olympia at TVW. I'm a voter like everyone else, but I'm inclined to vote to reject the referendum, which would essentially keep the statute that allows same sex marriage. And I think if it comes out at the other end that the referendum is rejected and we do have, and same sex couples are allowed to marry, I think it will be much better accepted by the public than if five of nine judges shoved it down the people's throat. And that's kind of what we said in the opinion. This is really a matter for the public through their legislators or through the initiative or referendum process to determine. Because there's rational reasons for limiting marriage to opposite sexes, there's reasons for allowing the definition of marriage to be broadened to allow same sex couples. And those only get a choice between positions which have a rational basis. And that's really for the legislature, not for the judges to act as the legislature.

Enrique:
You mentioned that the hearings, you were the proponent for bringing the cameras into the chambers of the state supreme court and opening up the process to the public.

Gerry:
I don't want to take too much credit on that. At the time, Barbara Durham was our chief justice and we were approached by TVW to allow camera in the courtroom. And she appointed justice Charles Smith, who had a television background with KOMO, Charles Z. Smith.

Enrique:
Commentator.

Gerry:
Charles Z. Smith and me as a committee, to look into it and make a recommendation to the court. And we made that recommendation. And we became the first subject of TVW. And that was almost about 17 years ago. And I've really been delighted with the experience. I remember asking Denny Hecht, who was then the head of TVW, do you think anybody will watch the court? And he said, yes, there will. And he was right. Hardly a week goes by I don't have somebody mention to me I've been watching the court. And all those years, I've never had a sour note, I've never had anybody say I think it's terrible you're on television.

Enrique:
I like to watch the court, I also like to watch when the state pardons and clemency board meets. And the graces in there are great stories. And as someone that likes story telling, it's just very gripping.

Gerry:
Well, people come up to me and say, you know, I've had people come up and say, I'm pretty good on recognizing people that I know and remembering their names. But I've had people go up to me and say, judge, I've seen you on TV and really like watching the court. And it makes me feel good. Because I think it's, government should be, that's an overused word now, but I think government should be as transparent as we possibly can. And I think they can see watching this, they can see that we're trying to do a good job, they're trying to, we're listening to the arguments and we're trying to get to the bottom of the close questions that we have at the supreme court. So I think it's been a positive thing. And I'm proud that we are, we were the first supreme court of any of the 50 states to have gavel to gavel coverage.

Enrique:
I didn't know that.

Gerry:
In fact, Denny Hecht used to say, you're the first supreme court in the world. And I don't know about that. But we were certainly the first of any of 50 states, and as you know, the federal courts don't allow cameras at all. And in my opinion, I think they should.

Enrique:
One last thing in the short amount of time that we have left here, I understand that at the Halloween parties at the state supreme court.

Gerry:
The famous Halloween parties.
[LAUGHTER]

Enrique:
You were known to dress up as a nerd.

Gerry:
I think I was a pretty good nerd too. I had the pocket protector and the goofy glasses and the pants pulled up high water. And we had a lot of fun with that. I always tried to, the supreme court, our staff, we had a wonderful staff down there, and the judges, we always have fun at Halloween. Kind of a little bit behind closed doors there, but we all get dressed up. And it's nice to kind of let your hair down with your hard working employees.

Enrique:
So in retirement, are they going to invite you back?

Gerry:
They told me they're going to invite me back?

Enrique:
And will you be the nerd?

Gerry:
I don't know if I'll do the nerd again. I always try to do something different each year. But maybe I might reprise the nerd, I had the wig, the funny wig. That was fun.

Enrique:
Retired justice and retired chief justice as well, state supreme court, Gerry Alexander. Thank you so much for your time. But more importantly, thank you for your service.

Gerry:
Thank you. It's been a great pleasure being here with you.

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12/26/13

WHAT HAPPENED TO ME! NEVER HAPPEN,, TO YOU..... A DOCUMENTARY Base On My True Life Story / My dream is to have a ONE on ONE video film interviewed WITH GERRY ALEXANDER a RETIRED CHIEF JUSTICE STATE of WASHINGTON SUPREME COURT.

( SAFETY ISSUES )

At KCTS CHANEL 9

PEACEFULLY,

FLORDELIZA ARROJO AYSON VILORIA
E: flordeliza.ayson@yahoo.com
E: faa.janitorialagency@yahoo.com
FB: WHAT HAPPENED TO ME! NEVER HAPPEN,, TO YOU...
FB: Flordeliza Arrojo Ayson Viloria

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