Gregerson joins Superior Court

Minnehaha native's friends, family hail his integrity, ability to listen

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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David Gregerson, a civil attorney with roots in Minnehaha, was sworn in Monday as the newest and youngest sitting judge in Clark County Superior Court and the first whose investiture was held outside the Clark County Courthouse.

"This is really a dream come true for a guy from Minnehaha after all these years," said Gregerson, 45.

Two decades after becoming a lawyer, Gregerson was elected to the 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.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson said she opted to hold this year's investiture in the Board of Clark County Commissioners chambers in the county Public Service Center because of overcrowding at the past two ceremonies held in the courthouse.

"My colleagues were not pleased," Johnson said in a rare public display of humor. "This was a severe break from precedence. … You would have thought I asked them to wear blue robes or no robes at all."

More than 150 people attended Gregerson's swearing-in Monday, spilling into a staging area outside of commissioner chambers.

International flavor

The county's judges and court commissioners and Judge Joel Penoyer from the Division 2 Washington Court of Appeals were in their black robes at commissioners' raised seating area. Gregerson's family, college buddies, former clients, fellow attorneys and other public officials were in the gallery.

After Johnson performed the swearing-in, Gregerson's wife, Maya, and his father-in-law, K.N. Bhat, draped him in his judge's robe for the first time at the ceremony. Bhat, an attorney in the Supreme Court of India, traveled Friday from India to attend the ceremony and planned to depart back to his law practice in his home country on Monday.

Gregerson's relatives by marriage aren't his only international flavor, said his former law partner of 15 years, Dean Langsdorf, during a tribute speech.

Gregerson's parents, Alf and Lili, who were in the audience, were Danish immigrants who never finished high school. They opened a metal welding fabrication business in Vancouver and were able to give both of

their children, Gregerson, and his sister, Diane, a better life.

That was the foundation of Gregerson's successful career trajectory, Langsdorf said.

After graduating from Hudson's Bay High School, Gregerson attended Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and then law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he met Maya, from India. Their unconventional union in 1993 included a church wedding in Vancouver and a Hindu wedding in India.

Bhat attended both weddings. "Imagine that we are orthodox Hindus, and I walked her down the aisle in a church and gave her away," Bhat said.

The new judge opened his Vancouver private law practice, Gregerson & Langsdorf, with Langsdorf in 1997. By coincidence, Langsdorf's grandfather, Judge J. Guthrie Langsdorf, presided over Alf and Lili's citizenship hearing in Clark County, Gregerson noted.

Langsdorf assured the audience that Gregerson will make a "fantastic judge." He cited Gregerson's integrity, listening skills and ability to relate to others and their experiences.

"I've seen someone with integrity, someone I can trust," Langsdorf said. "He's been an incredible friend to me. These qualities will give him the ability to protect people."

As a Superior Court judge, Gregerson will decide both criminal and civil cases.

Gregerson also thanked Judge Wulle for his years of service on the bench. Wulle's last months on the bench were troubled by a judicial conduct investigation.

Superior Court Judge John Nichols noted the public scrutiny judges subject themselves to by joining the bench. They are filmed during court proceedings as part of their jobs, in addition to being a constant fixture in the press.

"With this job comes great responsibility," Nichols said. "You are now serving the public. You are a judge 24-7. … You are on stage at all times."

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