WENATCHEE — Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges won’t seek re-election when his current term ends next year.
Bridges, 64, said he decided last year to leave the bench, after he began “going to bed Sunday night and worrying about what you were going to face Monday morning, and maybe not looking forward to it like I once did.”
His decision will leave a Chelan County Superior Court seat without an incumbent when it comes up for election next year. The four-year judicial term ends Dec. 31, 2012.
The 22-year veteran judge decided the landmark court case that resolved the 2004 gubernatorial election in favor of Gov. Chris Gregoire. State Republicans sought to overturn the election, arguing that the vote tally, which gave Democrat Gregoire just 129 more votes than her opponent Dino Rossi, was marred by fraud. Bridges ruled there was no evidence of illegal votes contributing to Gregoire’s win.
Before that, Bridges voided the 1999 election of Wenatchee Mayor Gary Schoessler, finding that Schoessler had not met residency requirements for candidacy. The state Supreme Court upheld Bridges’ ruling.
The judge’s next high-profile case likely will be the trial of Christopher Scott Wilson, charged with second-degree murder in the 2010 slaying of 17-year-old Mackenzie Cowell. Opening arguments are scheduled for March.
Interviewed last week, Bridges said in the course of interpreting the law, judges are forced to dash the hopes of parties in civil, domestic and criminal cases every day.
“You hurt people, as a judge,” Bridges said. “… Someone always feels that they didn’t get a just result. Try as we might to talk our way through our decisions and explain the law, someone always feels they’ve been wronged.”
Raised in Wenatchee’s Sunnyslope neighborhood, Bridges attended Seattle Pacific University and got his law degree from Gonzaga University. He served four years in the Army and went into private practice in Wenatchee in 1976, learning divorce law under well-known local attorney Bernice Bacharach.
He applied to Gov. Booth Gardner for judicial appointment in 1988, after Chelan County’s Superior Court system was expanded from two judges to three. Today he’s the county’s longest-serving Superior Court judge: T.W.“Chip” Small was appointed in 1991, Lesley Allan in 1998.
The Washington State Bar Association named Bridges Judge of the Year in 1995, and he won a similar honor from the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association in 2007. He earned a reputation for fairness even among lawyers defending clients in the notorious Wenatchee sex abuse cases of the mid-1990s, some of which he presided over.
“He’s an honorable, intelligent, good judge,” Auburn attorney Bob Van Siclen, who represented Wenatchee residents accused of sex abuse, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2005. “He’s quiet, but he takes control when he needs to.”
In the sweeping 1994-1995 investigation, police arrested more than 40 people on suspicion of sexually abusing Wenatchee Valley children. Of the 27 convictions, 17 were thrown out or their sentences overturned, with appeals-court judges noting flaws in the original investigation and prosecutions.
Bridges handed down sentences in six cases. Two of those sentences, against Laura Rebecca Holt and Randall N. Reed, were vacated when prosecutors offered them reduced plea deals after the fact.
Bridges also became known for a certain self-effacement, refusing to allow news media to photograph him in the courtroom. He suspended that policy during the disputed governor’s race, and the diamond stud in his left ear became a subject of statewide media inquiry. Bridges got the piercing in 2000.
“I grew up in a conservative environment here, went to a conservative school, spent four years in the Army, from 1968 to 1972, went to a conservative law school — and I thought it was time to have some self-expression,” he said.
“My mother was mortified, I can tell you that.”
With almost two years left on the bench, Bridges hasn’t decided what he’ll do with his free time, nor has he thought much about how he wants his judicial career to be remembered.
“I don’t think the case should be about the judge,” he said.
“When you’ve seen the pictures on the wall, other than perhaps the last three judges, nobody remembers anything,” he said, referring to judicial portraits hung throughout the Chelan County Courthouse. “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it probably should be. … We are forgotten, and it doesn’t take very long.”
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123