Gregerson forges a path to the Superior Court bench

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: Swearing-in ceremony for Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson.

When: 4 p.m. Jan. 14.

Where: Clark County Public Service Center, sixth floor, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

David Gregerson embodies the American dream of building a better life in a new country and cultivating success out of humble beginnings.

His parents were Danish immigrants who never finished high school. Nothing in his childhood in a working-class family in the Minnehaha area foretold of a career in law.

But Gregerson, on a mission to find his path, developed an appreciation for the field while a Pepperdine University undergraduate student working at a law office near the Malibu, Calif., campus.

The job led to a law degree in 1992 from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he met and married the daughter of an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. He opened a private practice in Vancouver not long after graduation. Two decades after becoming a lawyer, he was elected to Clark County Superior Court. He successfully outpolled Judge John Wulle in an August primary, the first time a sitting Superior Court judge has been unseated in 37 years in Clark County.

At a Jan. 14 swearing-in ceremony, the 45-year-old will become Clark County's youngest sitting Superior Court judge and one of the few derived from private, rather than public, law practice.

His parents, Alf and Lili Gregerson, came to the United States from Denmark and opened a metal welding fabrication business in Vancouver. His father had completed school through the eighth grade; his mother had earned her high school equivalency.

His first brush with the law was a law and justice class at Hudson's Bay High School taught by Bill Lodge, the younger brother of then-Clark County Superior Court Judge Tom Lodge.

At that point, he hadn't decided to become a lawyer. He studied psychology at Pepperdine, but shortly before graduation, he explored the legal field further.

"I looked at the vocational landscape and the prospect of a career in psychology, and that necessitated graduate school," he said. That didn't appeal to him.

"I had joined a pre-law fraternity in college," he said. "Having next to zero legal experience and having just three credits my last semester at Pepperdine, I decided to work 35 hours a week at a law office." Two partners in the firm, John Samberg and Peter Bisno, became his mentors.

"They took a personal interest in me and my career," he said. "I remember I loved how they thought and how they spoke."

Their guidance helped prepare him to apply for law school and later launch his career in 1992 in Vancouver. He eventually opened his firm, Gregerson & Langsdorf, in Vancouver, where he specialized in real estate law.

While in law school, he met his future wife, Maya Bhat. She is from India, where arranged marriages are the norm. When Gregerson called her father, K.N. Bhat, for permission to marry Maya, he was told to wait three days while his future father-in-law, a court advocate, sought advice from a judge on the Supreme Court of India on this divergence from tradition.

His father-in-law plans to attend Gregerson's swearing-in on Jan. 14.

Gregerson and Maya married in May 1993 at the Clark County Courthouse and had a Hindu wedding in January 1994 in India. They now have two children, Meera, 16, and Kiran, 12.

Eight years ago, Gregerson began serving as a pro tem District Court judge, filling in when judges are out of the office.

In 2009, he decided to try to boost his career another notch.

He unsuccessfully vied for a seat on the bench before: He submitted his name for consideration by the governor when former Judge Robert Harris retired in 2009 and again in 2011 when Judge Roger Bennett stepped down midterm.

Superior Court judges have jurisdiction over felony criminal cases, all civil cases involving more than $75,000 and some smaller civil cases, divorces and probate cases. They decide the fates of thousands of lives during their time on the bench.

Gregerson said he takes that responsibility seriously. He said his judicial philosophy is to "first seek to understand; then, be understood."

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.