Melnick sworn to Court of Appeals

Hockinson man is first county resident to serve on appellate panel since 2005

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Judge Rich Melnick was ceremoniously sworn in to the state Court of Appeals Division 2 on Wednesday afternoon in front of his colleagues and family.

“See that smile on his face? That smile has been on his face since he got the appointment,” Division 2 Chief Judge Lisa Worswick said.

Did you know?

• The state Court of Appeals hears appeals from people who have lost a decision made by a trial court. The Court of Appeals’ decision will typically be the final word in a case, although some cases can move on to the state Supreme Court.

• The state Division 2 Court of Appeals, based in Tacoma, represents 13 counties in Southwest Washington. Rich Melnick is one of two judges in the division representing District 3, which covers Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties.

Melnick, 58, of Hockinson was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Feb. 14 to succeed Judge Joel Penoyar of Pacific County, who retired Feb. 28. The last Clark County resident to serve on the appellate court, Judge J. Dean Morgan, was also in the audience during the ceremony. He retired in October 2005.

At Wednesday’s event, in the sixth-floor hearing room of the Public Service Center, Melnick’s colleagues explained that appellate court is the “workhorse of the judicial system,” requiring extensive knowledge and research, for which Melnick is well-suited. The speakers described him as their go-to person for legal questions who could be counted on to do a job right. They said he has high expectations of himself and the people who stand before him.

“The bad news is — for me anyway — he’s the same off the bench,” joked his son, Ben Melnick, who recently graduated from Gonzaga University’s law school.

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander administered Melnick’s oath to follow the constitution and complete his duties. Alexander said that Melnick was well-prepared when he previously argued cases in front of the appellate court.

After graduating from Lewis & Clark Law School, Melnick began his career in 1981 at the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. While a prosecutor, he headed the county’s first Appellate Bureau. In 2004, he became a District Court judge at the county, then joined the county’s Superior Court bench in February 2010. He’s also served on the municipal court bench in Camas and Washougal and has taught law at Clark College.

“Three courts in 10 years: That’s what we call in the judicial business a trifecta,” Alexander said.

Melnick’s wife and son helped him put on his robes, marking the end of his investiture. The Division 2 court convenes in Tacoma, and Melnick said that he’ll be commuting there at least every week for sessions.

Melnick serves on the state’s Gender and Justice Commission, which works to eliminate gender bias in the law and justice system.

He started his term March 10 and will earn $164,238 annually. He will have to run for election in November if he draws a challenger.