Monday, July 9, 2007

New W.D. Wash. Judge

On June 29, the Senate confirmed Benjamin H. Settle to serve as a district court judge for the Western District of Washington. He will have chambers in Tacoma, filling the vacancy created when Judge Franklin D. Burgess assumed senior status.

The Senate vote was 99-0. Who says politicians can't ever agree on anything?

A graduate of Willamette law school, Judge Settle was a founding partner of Settle & Johnson in Shelton. The firm has two attorneys (until Settle's departure) and at its largest only had three.

That background makes me think about the demographics of federal judges. Off the top of my head, it seems that many come from state court judgeships, big-firm, big-city practice, or large government organizations. I'm guessing that Judge Settle's background -- very small firm in a small city -- is unusual.

And yet solo and small firm practice is not at all unusual for attorneys. In 2000, 48% of U.S. attorneys were in solo practice, 15% were in firms of 2-5 lawyers, and 7% were in firms of 6-10 lawyers. ABA Lawyer Demographics fact sheet (2006).

... Oh, heck, I can't resist. I'll go to the Federal Judicial Center's Federal Judges Biographical Database.

My search: all sitting judges in the Western District of Washington. Here are their last jobs before the federal bench:

  • private practice
    • Seattle (Bryan, Coughenour, Robart, Zilly)

    • Tacoma (Leighton)

    • Yakima (McDonald)

    • Spokane (Nielsen, Quackenbush)

    • Shelton (Settle)(city wasn't listed, but we knew it already)

    • no location named (Shea)

  • U.S. magistrate (Burgess (earlier: HUD), Suko (earlier: private practice, Yakima))

  • Wash. Supreme Court justice (Dimmick, McGovern)

  • superior court judge (Lasnik, Martinez, Pechman, Rothstein, Sickle, Whaley). Their jobs before superior court:
    • prosecutor's office (Lasnik, Martinez - both King County)
    • private practice (Pechman (Sea.), Sickle, Whaley (Spo.))
    • Wash. AG's office (Rothstein)
This confirms that state judgeships are common feeder jobs -- and also the position of U.S. Magistrate, which I hadn't thought of. An equal number of the district judges came from private practice as from judicial or magistrate positions (10 and 10).

I can't tell from the database entries the size of firm or type of practice for the ones who had been in private practice. I'm still guessing that a two-person firm is not the norm. Further investigation is for another day -- or another researcher!

No comments: