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Retired Clark County Judge J. Dean Morgan dies at 79

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

Retired Judge J. Dean Morgan, the third Clark County Superior Court judge to serve on the Washington Court of Appeals, died Dec. 3 in Seattle after battling Parkinson’s disease. He was 79 years old.

His death was recently announced by Emmick Family Funeral & Cremation Services in West Seattle.

On Thursday, those in the Clark County legal community shared their condolences.

Vancouver attorney and close friend Steve Horenstein described Morgan as “a wonderful man, a lawyer’s lawyer and judge’s judge.”

They met when Horenstein was a legal intern in the Clark County Public Defender’s Office, which Morgan had started. He said Morgan was proud of the lawyers he mentored there, who went on to have good careers in the private sector in Clark County.

The two also played together in a band called Legal Tender for many years — Morgan on trumpet and Horenstein on saxophone.

Horenstein even managed Morgan’s first campaign for judge and appeared before him as a lawyer.

“He treated everybody the same. If anything, he was a little tougher on his friends. (He was a) very even-handed judge, a very prepared judge,” Horenstein said.

Attorney and Judge Roger Bennett, who appeared in front of Morgan many times and succeeded him on the Superior Court bench, described him as a “truly exceptional judge” who had an “encyclopedic memory of cases.”

“He listened to every argument, and you could just see as you did, he was running it over in his mind and considering the various components of an argument. You knew you would get a real reasoned decision from him. He could look right through you, and you knew you had to be very logical and correct in your argument.”

‘A judge’s judge’

Morgan was born Sept. 3, 1942, in Berkeley, Calif., to Elmer Morgan and Mildred Dean Morgan. He was raised in the East Bay, according to his obituary, and obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1964 from the University of California, Berkeley. He went on to earn his law degree in 1968 from the University of California-Hastings College of Law and moved to Seattle, where he worked for the law firm of Hauger Garvey Schubert, now Foster Garvey.

Morgan moved to Vancouver in 1972 and started the county public defender’s office, serving as public defender until 1976. He also served as a Superior Court judge in the fall of 1975 to fill an open seat, according to “A History of Superior Court Judges of Clark County, Washington” compiled by Bennett.

In 1976, then-Gov. Dan Evans appointed Morgan to the Superior Court bench, where he served until 1990.

Morgan left the Clark County bench after being appointed by then-Gov. Booth Gardner to the state Court of Appeals, Division II in Tacoma. He served as the chief judge of Division II in 1994, and presiding chief judge from 1995-1996, according to Washington State Courts.

He was named “Outstanding Judge of the Year” in 1998 by the Washington State Bar Association.

“Dean was a judge’s judge. As an appellate judge, he believed that his opinions were only good if they provided lawyers with a detailed analysis that they could apply to their own cases,” his obituary reads.

Morgan had also become an expert on evidence after joining the Superior Court bench and taught it as an adjunct professor of law at Seattle University School of Law and Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland. He was also on the faculty of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., where he taught judges from around the nation, and at the Washington State Judicial College.

He was recognized as a leader in judicial education, earning the Board of Judicial Education’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

Morgan was also admitted to the American Law Institute, a prestigious organization that publishes restatements of the law.

He retired from the appellate court in October 2005.

Retired Judge Rich Melnick said he “had the honor” of appearing before Morgan when Morgan was a trial court and appellate judge, and noted many of their professional similarities.

He described him as “a brilliant man, a kind man, a man of high character.”

“Dean will be missed, that’s for sure,” he said.

Morgan is survived by his wife, Michele Radosevich; children and stepchildren, Christine Seeley (Bruce), Peter Morgan (Tanya) and Andrea Radosevich (Dana Cogswell); grandchildren Madeleine and Gabrielle Seeley and Jeremy and Nicole Cogswell; brother Dick Morgan (Tina); and sisters Kathleen Morgan (Luis Losada) and Suzanne Williams (Reed).

A memorial service will be held at a future date, his obituary said.

People can make memorial donations to the Campaign for Equal Justice, 1325 Fourth Ave., Suite 1335, Seattle, WA 98101 or online at https://legalfoundation.org/givenow/.

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