Governor appoints bar president as next judge

Suzan Clark will succeed Diane Woolard on Superior Court

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday appointed the president of the Clark County Bar Association to succeed retired Judge Diane Woolard on the county’s Superior Court bench.

Suzan L. Clark, 50, of Vancouver will be that court’s third female judge, Inslee noted. He made the announcement in the morning to a standing-room-only crowd in Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson’s courtroom.

“We are extremely pleased Suzan is going to bring her talent to the bench,” Inslee said.

He said he chose Clark because of her legal knowledge, her compassion for the indigent and her varied experience during the past 26 years in Washington and Oregon. In all of the communities where she worked, she is highly regarded, he said.

Clark said she has to wrap up some of her cases before taking the bench and hopes to do so by the end of the month.

“It’s a humbling day,” Clark said. “This process has been a long one and an interesting one.”

She will have to seek election in November to retain office.

Woolard retired in March citing health problems related to her epilepsy.

Johnson said a swearing-in ceremony will be scheduled soon.

“We have always looked to Suzan, giving her some of our most difficult cases,” said Johnson, the presiding Superior Court judge. “Now, we can look forward to giving her those in a judicial capacity.”

Clark has experience in civil, criminal, prosecution, defense, appellate and family law. She also has worked occasionally as a pro tem judge since 1999. Her law degree is from the University of Oregon.

Clark has a contract with the county to defend the indigent in criminal cases and has represented high-profile clients, including, most recently, Sandra Weller. Weller and her husband, Jeffrey, were convicted Feb. 8 of imprisoning, starving and beating their adopted twins.

She also served as a prosecutor for six years.

Clark was selected out of a pool of nine applicants.

“Our search was in a very fertile field,” Inslee said. “We found many talented people in Clark County.”

Clark and Clark County Superior Court Commissioner Carin Schienberg were finalists in the selection process. In a bar association poll of 250 members, Schienberg received 36.4 percent of bar association member votes as the preferred candidate. Clark was the second choice with 30 percent of votes.

Other candidates were real estate attorney Michael Simon, Deputy Prosecutor Bernard Veljacic, private attorney Robert Vukanovich, private attorney Christopher Ramsey, private attorney Louis Byrd; James Gilligan, a hearings judge with the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals; and private attorney Paulette Burgess.

In addition to casting votes for their choice for judge, bar association members also rated the candidates on legal ability, judicial temperament, integrity and relevant legal experience.

Clark received the highest ratings in all categories, except “relevant legal experience,” for which Schienberg received the highest marks.

The poll was just one of several factors Inslee considered.

The state’s Superior Court judges serve four-year terms and earn $148,832 per year, plus benefits. They’ll receive a pay bump to $151,809 per year effective Sept. 1.

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