Suzan Clark sworn in as Clark County Superior Court judge

She has experience in prosecution, indigent defense, appeals, and civil and family law

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

Suzan Clark addressed a room Friday afternoon packed with friends, family and colleagues, and said during her career as a trial attorney, she always promised juries she would be brief.

The county's newest Superior Court judge said she'd approach her swearing-in ceremony at the Public Service Center the same way. She said looking at the crowd, which included friends from elementary school and college, felt like watching her life flash before her eyes.

It was humbling to have so much support, she said.

"I look forward to serving the people of this community," said Clark, appointed May 6 by Gov. Jay Inslee to fill a vacancy.

State law requires her to run for election in November to retain office, but the former president of the Clark County Bar Association didn't receive a challenger.

The judicial oath was administered by presiding Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson, the county's first female Superior Court judge. Clark replaced Diane Woolard, who had to retire because of chronic health issues. Woolard was the county's second female Superior Court judge; Clark is the third.

Clark's father, Gary Clark, helped her don her robe.

Clark, 50, earned her degree from University of Oregon School of Law and spent two years as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Cowlitz County and four years as a deputy prosecutor in Clark County. She has been in private practice since 1994. In addition to doing indigent defense work — and being one of the go-to attorneys to represent defendants charged with the most serious of felony crimes — she has done civil and family law, worked as a judge pro-tem and handled appeals.

Former Superior Court Judge Roger Bennett told the audience Friday that Clark's appellate experience will serve her particularly well, because in those cases a focus becomes what a trial judge did wrong.

"She's an outstanding choice," said Bennett, who was the county's chief criminal deputy prosecutor before becoming a judge. He said when word spread that Inslee had appointed Clark, he high-fived veteran defense attorney Steve Thayer.

Having Clark on the bench will benefit everyone, Bennett said.

Superior Court judges serve four-year terms and earn $148,832 a year, which will increase to $151,809 per year in September.

Superior Court Judge John Nichols recalled that at his swearing-in ceremony in 1997, he received lots of praise but no practical advice. Nichols, one of eight Superior Court judges sitting at the dais — Clark was standing in front of the judges; Robert Lewis was presiding over a trial — he would offer Clark some practical advice.

Nichols, known for his sense of humor, didn't disappoint. He told Clark it took him years to realize judicial robes have pockets and that sarcasm doesn't come across very well in transcripts of court proceedings.

Also, "if you have a choice between a kidney stone and a (labor and industries) trial, take the kidney stone," Nichols said. "Eventually the kidney stone will pass."

Nichols warned that Johnson, as presiding judge, likes assigning the other judges to exploratory committees.

Nichols finished with a nod to local history: "I don't want to be on any committee with Lewis and Clark, because it will take forever to finish."

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.