After more than 20 years on the Clark County Superior Court bench, nearly 14 as a judge, the Honorable Scott A. Collier is retiring Thursday to become a globetrotter.
First on his list is hiking about 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain with his wife, who is retiring the same day. Their plan is to hike 15 miles a day, carrying 15 to 20 pounds each, which may include the most important hiking essential — wine, he said, jokingly.
Collier, who’s previously visited Ecuador and Haiti, among other countries, said he’d like to spend about four months of the year traveling around the world; he’s already eyeing Florence, Italy, as his next destination.
The 65-year-old said he wants to get his globe-trotting in while he’s still physically able. His pastimes already include urban walking, hiking and backpacking on the weekends, and he’s been with the Mount Hood Ski Patrol for about 15 years.
But it’s not going to be all fun and no work. Collier will join McKinley Irvin as a part-time private mediator, he said.
Still, retirement will be a welcome recess from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the court and “the way we conduct business,” he said. As presiding judge at the time, Collier guided the court through the transition from in-person to virtual hearings, which he described as the most challenging stretch of his career on the bench.
“We were only shut down for a few weeks, but we went 10 years ahead in technology in just a matter of months,” he said. The technology is changing courts across the country, he said, adding that there are a lot of advantages, though he misses the personal aspect.
Collier noted the court’s growth over the years and changes to how it is managed.
When he arrived in Vancouver in 1984, there were five judges and one commissioner, he said. By the time he joined the bench as a judge in 2008, there were 10 judges and two commissioners. Now, there are 11 judges and four commissioners.
He also pointed to the advent of therapeutic courts.
“We know they work and are less expensive to the community over time,” he said.
Collier said he will miss Drug Court the most. He started planning and presiding over the county’s Family Treatment Court for a number of years, and was most recently assigned to Adult Drug Court.
“It’s a dedicated team of people who help people make changes in their lives,” he said.
‘A phenomenal job’
Collier graduated from Washington State University with a degree in political science. He originally wanted to pursue teaching but decided law would be a better fit. (Still, he loves teaching, he said, and teaches at the National Judicial College every couple of years.)
He then graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1983 and began working in Spokane before moving to Clark County.
In his first year practicing law, a woman in witness protection retained him for a visitation case. She was wanted by the mob, Collier said, and the FBI handled his retainer. It was one of his more exciting cases, he said.
In Clark County, he worked as a general litigator at a larger firm, and later as partner, before moving to solo practice. He served on the Vancouver City Council from 1987 to 1990, starting at age 29 — the youngest council member to serve to date — and on various boards in the community. In 1995, then-Superior Court Judge Tom Lodge called him and asked if he would serve part-time as a commissioner. Four years later, he took a full-time position. (Court commissioners are employed in most Washington courts to ease judges’ caseloads. They are usually attorneys who are licensed to practice in the state. They work under the direction of a judge and assume many of the same powers and duties.)
Collier was appointed July 31, 2008, by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire to fill a new position on the Superior Court bench. The 10th position was approved by Clark County commissioners as part of a $6.4 million anti-drug package, which allowed for the expansion of therapeutic courts.
One of his most memorable cases, he said, was a 2011 attempted murder of a suspected cartel drug dealer by a friend sent to kill him over an unpaid debt.
“People don’t realize this is happening in Vancouver,” Collier said.
Tracy Haxby, who’s served as his judicial assistant since 2005, described Collier as knowledgable, patient, even-keeled and professional with litigants, the public and attorneys. In Drug Court, he held clients accountable with compassion, she said.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Haxby said, tearing up. “Keeping track of him has been fun and challenging. I appreciate that we’ve been able to work together. He is my boss, but our relationship is definitely a friendship, as well. I will miss him.”
As for the future, Collier said he hopes the court sees some stability for a while; though, there are plans for some technology changes and discussions about restructuring to make things flow better, he said.
“Overall, it was a phenomenal job working with a bunch of incredible people, and you make an impact on people’s lives and the community; and hopefully it was more positive than negative,” he said.
Collier’s successor, Tsering Cornell, currently an assistant attorney general, will be sworn in Friday.