This is the second of a two part account by Robert T. Hunter of his life as lawyer and judge in Washington State. In the installment published in the previous issue of the Pacific Northwest Forum Justice Hunter told about his early years as a lawyer in the Grand Coulee region, where for a time he lived in a tent. The career which began in such humble circumstances led finally to a seat on the Washington State Supreme Court, where Hunter served as Justice and Chief Justice
Charles H. Sheldon, Professor of Political Science at Washington State University, helped prepare Justice Hunter's memoirs for publication. (Sheldon is author of A Century of Judging: A Political History of the Washington Supreme Court, published in 1988.) In submining this account of Hunter's ''four decades of lawyering and judging" to the Forum, Sheldon wrote, "I regarded his remembrances as an important 'record' of the early years in Grant County and of the state benches from a judge's perspective."
AFTER ELEVEN YEARS as a practicing lawyer in Grand Coulee, I became the Superior Court Judge of the Judicial District of Douglas and Grant Counties, and was sworn in at Ephrata, on September 1st 1946 by signing an oath of office before my long-time friend, Roy Mundy, the Grant County Clerk. I was 38 years of age, then the youngest Superior Court Judge in the State of Washington. My appointment, however, was only good until the next general election, and since it was after the filings for office had closed, it was necessary for me to run for election as a "sticker" candidate.
This left the field wide open for a "write-in" of the name of any lawyer residing in my judicial district. Fortunately no one campaigned against me and I was (3) elected to my first full 4-year term in November.
The salary for the position was $6,500.00 per year, which was substantially less than my income as a lawyer. To me, however, one of the unbelievable emoluments of the office was the 30-day paid vacation afforded every summer. Then too, I thought it would be a most valuable experience to have been a judge, should I go back in to the practice of law.
The transition from a lawyer to a judge for me was abrupt. Instead of being an advocate, I became an umpire. Instead of waving my hands, I had to sit on my hands. If the lawyer in examining a witness did not elicit all the crucial information, I would sometimes ask a few questions myself. The tough part was to hold back and remain aloof from the struggle being "acted" out before me.
I was reminded of a judge's experience in King County with the then celebrated trial lawyer George Vanderveer. This judge began interrogating one of George Vanderveer's witnesses, which continued for quite sometime, when Vanderveer interrupted the judge - with the following colloquy, "If it please the court - if you are asking that question in my behalf, I withdraw the question."
The judge without comment terminated his examination. After hearing the story I concluded it might be propitious if I tempered such a practice myself. But so often I wanted to help out the adversaries in the case.
I also experienced some difficulty in adjusting to the formalities in court required of a judge. My lawyer acquaintances, many very close friends, would of course come into court and address me: "Your Honor," "If it please the court," etc. Only a few months before it was "Bob" or "Hunter."
I had an inner feeling that they didn't mean it at all as I could not have changed so swiftly to justify such recognition.
This was particularly true of Allen Spratlin whom I had known so well for so long in Grand Coulee. But his conduct was always that of impeccable respect in the court room, as if I had been a judge for 50 years.
My non-lawyer friends from Grand Coulee however, showed less enthusiasm for court room formalities. On one occasion I started to swear in a former lady client of mine, as a witness, and while her hand was raised for (4) taking the oath, she said in a loud voice, "Hi, Bob!"
The spring following my appointment to the court, I had my first experience as a trial judge in a jury case. I was called over to assist Judge Robert Murray in Okanogan County, who was the successor to Judge William C. Brown who had recently retired. Judge Murray had disqualified himself in a cattle stealing case. I was a long-time acquaintance of Judge Brown having tried several cases before him while practicing law in Grand Coulee.
This was my first jury case, and, although retired, Judge Brown was of considerable assistance by counseling me on judicial procedure. He told me that cattle stealing cases were considered as rather "big" cases in Okanogan County. The stockmen would generally fill up one side of the court room and the cowboys would fill up the other side.
The defendant was charged with stealing and butchering a calf in a pasture during the night. The sheriff had retrieved the hide of the butchered calf. A freshly skinned carcass was discovered at the home of the defendant.
Apparently in the haste of skinning the calf, the thief had left rather large pieces of flesh on the hide. The hide was placed about the butchered carcass, and the chunks of meat on the hide fit almost perfectly into the gouged irregularities on the carcass.
The carcass was seized by the sheriff. It was too large to be placed in a cold storage locker at a local business, but it and the hide were placed in the comer of the freezer, covered by a blanket for safe keeping. It was, of course, prime evidence.
At the time in the trial, the frozen carcass which the sheriff had found at the accused house, was brought into the court room and the hide retrieved from the pasture was prepared for the "fitting".
To everyone's amusement, someone had apparently broken into the locker room the night before and with a meat cleaver had chopped off all of the identifying chunks of meat from the hide. It was impossible to show that the carcass and the hide belonged together. Brought before me on my first cattle rustling case, the defendant walked out of the court a free man.
When I told Judge Brown how distressed I was to think that someone would slip into the locker and disfigure this important piece of evidence in the state's case, he (5) appeared not too perturbed. "Bob - you know sometimes these boys with the high heeled boots, get pretty cute - get pretty cute."
As Judge Brown informed me, that like cattle rustling, horse stealing was quite common not so long ago. At the turn of the century defendants charged with horse stealing were sometimes the majority among the criminal cases. Ed Southard of Ephrata was the defense attorney in many of these cases.
Ed was a tall stately gray haired man. In some of the criminal cases before me as the defense attorney he would stand before the jury fondling a gold chain hanging from his vest, and in a slow clear voice would make the following comment about the credibility of the damaging testimony of the prosecutors witness against his client. "You know its a very strange thing that this man was in the right place, at the right time, and saw exactly what was needed to be detrimental to my client."
Ed Southard had a younger brother, Ben Southard who was in his seventies, who had several cases before me, and in each case I ruled against him. One day Ben said "Judge Hunter, I'm going to have to start filing affidavits of prejudice against you and ask for an outside judge in my cases. It seems that you are always deciding against me."
I very slowly replied, "Ben, all I can say is that it would be of great help to you if you would just get on the right side of the case, for a change." Ben never did file an affidavit of prejudice against me.
In those days a framed glass covered sign was hanging on the wall above the jury box, which stated in black letters. "Do Not Spit On The Floor." As for Ben, this was not necessary - while chewing tobacco he never failed to center the shiny brass spittoon, with a distinct ring.
Another pioneer lawyer in Ephrata, was Billy Clapp. He was small of stature and a rather meek voice. But when he was in the court room - watch out. He was always prepared, and was seldom on the losing side.
One day E. K. Brown, a veteran and colorful lawyer from Ellensburg, was in court opposing Billy Clapp in a civil case. E. K. Brown had the reputation of having never lost a murder case during his many years of practice. He had a somewhat asthmatic condition and often right in the (6) middle of an argument (and sometimes for emphasis), he would reach over into his satchel, and pull out a spray contraption about a foot long with a red rubber bulb on the end.
He would open his mouth, insert the pointed end - give the bulb a couple of squeezes, put the "spray" back in his satchel and then pick up his argument exactly where he left off before his "attack."
Instead of leading a "cloistered life" as some judges were then prone to do, I felt as a young judge it would be well to expand my acquaintances throughout the two counties as in four more years I would be up for re-election. Besides, I just enjoyed being with and meeting people. I never turned down an invitation to be a speaker for clubs and civic organizations, and on most any occasion.
I soon found out that there was nothing more enjoyable for an audience when I spoke than to make a judge the "butt of a joke." One of my best stories was from the following experience: On an occasion in Waterville, I was being introduced at a meeting by Rex Price who I thought was a friend of mine. He started out great by stating how well they liked having me as their judge, and how well I was doing, and continued by saying that I already had numerous admirers.
He said, "There is one lady that was always present in the court room for all of Judge Hunter's cases. One day at the conclusion of the hearing she approached Judge Hunter and told him what a high regard she had for him, but wanted to ask him a question. She said that, 'some judges took two weeks to make up their minds, but you always decided them right at the end of every case. Just how do you do it?'"
According to Rex Price: "Judge Hunter was so overcome by the woman's frankness that he decided to tell the truth. 'My dear lady, its just like this, I only listen to one side of the case, when I listen to both sides it confuses me. "'
During my first jury term in Grant County we had a criminal case arising out of a rodeo that had been held in Grand Coulee. A young Indian boy from Nespelem was one of the participants and won the Bull Dogging Contest, receiving a prize check in the amount of $62.00.
He cashed the check at the Wild Life Cafe in Grand Coulee, than reached over picked up the check, putting both the money and the (7) check in his pocket. He was charged with grand larceny. His attorney, Pete Tonkoff from Yakima, at the beginning of the jury trial, stated he would prove that his client was so intoxicated at the time, that he was unable to form the specific intent, essential to commit the crime of grand larceny.
To show the great amount of liquor that was consumed at the rodeo, which must have included what his client drank, he called as witness a little man from Nespelem. This man testified that he was a farmer, a violin player and yes, he was a judge at rodeos.
He testified there was a lot of liquor being consumed at this rodeo. Then there came the "64 dollar question."
"Did you drink any liquor yourself at this rodeo?" He turned and looked me straight in the eye and said, "Well- you know how it is - they always treat the judge."
One year right in the middle of a jury term we had a courthouse fire, putting the court room out of business. Arrangements were immediately made for a continuation of the jury term in another location, which was down the street a couple of blocks in the finished basement of the First Presbyterian Church.
On the first morning of the court session, I noticed the Presbyterian minister come in and seat himself in the back of the room, apparently curious to see what was going on.
The court was declared in session by the bailiff when immediately Lloyd Cunningham, an attorney from Moses Lake, arose and stated, "If it please the court - I have an emergency motion. My client moves this court for a change of venue, on the grounds that he doesn't believe he can receive a fair trial in the basement of a church."
The minister in the rear of the room almost went into a state of shock, even though the motion was promptly denied.
I remember one unusual case concerning a very tragic affair, a carpenter by the name of Matthew Swearson, in the small town of Bridgeport in Douglas County, had a wife, two young children and a dog. He had become very religious and obsessed with the life hereafter.
In his mind, finally the time had come to take his family and himself to the after-life. He shot and killed his wife and two (8) children and cut the throat of their dog so that the pet could join the children. He then took a large knife, placed the point on his chest, and started to punch it into his heart. But his hand strayed by an unseen power.
He was charged with the three murders. However, the defense attorney and the prosecutor agreed that he should be sent to the mental hospital in Medical Lake for a 90 day observation period prior the entry of his plea. An order that had been prepared for the purpose was presented to me.
Swearson was standing facing me in front of the judge's bench, with his court appointed lawyer at his side. I accepted the order and agreed to the arrangement. I reached over to my right and lifted my pen form the holder to sign the order, when Swearson pointed his finger at me and said in a clear voice. "Fellow, I wouldn't do that if were you."
I made no indication that I had heard his threat and proceeded to sign the order, but inwardly I was somewhat apprehensive. To be warned by a man who had just murdered three members of his family makes one hesitant.
The defendant carpenter was later tried and found "not guilty" by reason of insanity by a Douglas County jury and was sent to Medical Lake where he would forever remain unless his sanity was found to be restored. The following Christmas, I received a Christmas card addressed to me, and naming my wife and three children, and signed, "Matthew Swearson." What he had in mind, I will never know.
The tragic story came to an end when, later, I heard he had taken his life by hanging himself with a sheet.
Probably the most important and far-reaching civil case to come before me during my tenure on the Superior Court was initiated by attorney Nat Washington in behalf of the Grant County Public Utility District. The P.U.D. was making application for a federal permit to build the Priest Rapids Dam in Grant County on the Columbia River. But, while this application was pending, the Washington State Power Commission decided it wanted to get in the dam building business and commenced an application to the federal government also to build a dam in behalf of the state, in Grant (9) County on the Columbia River. This precipitated the Grant County P.U.D.'s application by Nat Washington for a permanent restraining order against the State Power Commission prohibiting its preceding in competition with the P.U.D. on the grounds it was beyond its statutory power to do so.
After an extensive hearing and comprehensive arguments on both sides, I ruled in favor of the Grant County P.U.D. and the permanent restraining order was granted. The case was then appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court, and the Grant County ruling was upheld. Except for this determination the Grant County P.U.D. might not have obtained the permit for its construction of the present Priest Rapids Dam, as well and the Wanapum Dam that followed.
In becoming a Superior Court Judge I never realized the responsibility that was ahead on me in "riding the herd" on the juveniles of Grant County. Douglas County was not much of a problem and since it was more sparsely populated, it seemed the parents did a much better job in keeping track of and controlling their young people. The problems were different in Grant County due to the explosive population resulting from the development of the 500,000 acre irrigation project in the Columbia Basin.
In the earlier days of Grant County, the youngsters who now and then got into trouble were handled by the sheriffs office, sometimes the prosecuting attorney, and on rare occasions by the judge. But as the population increased with new families continuously moving in, the situation changed. The sheriff and deputies and the prosecuting attorney's office had all they could handle without the responsibilities of disciplining juveniles.
I found out suddenly, they were now my concern. The offenders were marched up to my office, I was advised of their transgressions, and I was on my own. No one had ever thought of employing a juvenile officer trained in the ways of the young. These youngsters were like an extended family and I was their parent. Unlike criminal cases which were concluded at the end of a trial, the youngsters were (10) still around and my family became even more extended. Whatever disciplinary measures that were imposed, initially or again and again, I was responsible for converting these young people into future responsible citizens of the community. I would lie awake at night trying to promulgate different methods of punishment to accomplish this end.
The Grant County Commissioners were not interested in appropriating money for a juvenile officer for two reasons: they didn't have the money to appropriate, and since there had never been one needed in the past, there wasn't any need now. Eventually, however, the commissioners did appropriate $2400.00 for such a department of the Court, and in 1955 I employed Claire Abel as my first juvenile officer at a salary of $200.00 a month.
We found an old Underwood typewriter for him even though for a time there was not even an office for him and his typewriter. Claire swiftly set up a file for each offender with a constant follow-up of the juvenile's progress. He became "herd rider" and with my assistance gradually, sold the county commissioners on the value of his office and they reluctantly found some more money.
Claire Abel retired only a few years ago, (in 1985), as the Senior Juvenile Officer of the State of Washington leaving a well staffed half million dollar Juvenile Center- some transition from an Underwood typewriter and a salary of $2400.00 a year! I look back now with a great deal of satisfaction in seeing that most of these juvenile offenders turned out to be good citizens and in some instances leaders of their communities.
Court business increased so dramatically after my first 9 years as judge that the legislature "took compassion" and created an additional judgeship for the Judicial District of Grant and Douglas Counties. Felix Rea was appointed the fill the new position.
He was a fine lawyer and as everyone expected, became an outstanding jurist, highly regarded and respected by both lawyers and non-lawyers in his district, and by those who knew him throughout the state. During his judicial tenure he received the distinction being called to serve as a Pro- Tem Justice on the Washington State Supreme Court.
On July 3, 1957, I took Maureen to the hospital in anticipation of (11) our fourth child. Needless to say, after three daughters we hoped for a son. At 11 :30 p.m. that night Dr. John Kearns directed me to go home as it then appeared nothing would be occurring until the next morning. At 3:00 a.m. I received a phone call form the doctor, "Bob come right down, you have a brand new baby - and besides, its a boy."
Was I excited? I not only had a son, but he was born on the 4th of July. I stormed into the delivery room and there he was in a wire basket, on his back with his hands and feet sticking in the air. I immediately counted the fingers on his hands and the toes on his feet. The sums were correct and all seemed to be in order. I congratulated Maureen, thanked the doctor and was directed to go home and get some sleep.
That day was also a great occasion for the town of George, in Grant County. A cherry pie had been baked 16 feet long, 4 feet wide and 6 inches deep. A stage had been covered with a canopy. My good friend and law classmate, Governor Albert D. Rosellini and his staff were on stage, having flown over from the Olympia in a National Guard plane for the purpose of dedicating the town.
As I took my seat on the stage, the master of ceremonies announced to all assembled: "Here comes Judge Hunter, and Judge we hear that you are the father of a new baby." I was unable to control my enthusiasm, I shook his hand, grabbed the microphone and shouted "Yes sir-ree - and a son, a Yankee Doodle Dandy." I reached in my pockets and started throwing cigars in the air to the audience.
They reciprocated with almost as much enthusiasm, cheering and applauding. Governor AI, shook my hand and then proceeded to dedicate the Town of George, Washington, in the grandest style ever.
In October of 1957 the sad news was received that our highly regarded former townsman and Supreme Court Justice Ed W. Schwellenbach had died as a result of surgery in Seattle. That weekend I was on the coast and on my return to Ephrata, my friend Roy Mundy was there waiting to break the news.
I had known Roy from the early days when he was in Roosevelt High School and I was at the University. In fact we made a trip together that summer through Northern Montana in a Model T (12) Ford coupe, selling subscriptions to the Pictorial Review Magazine, both of us winning scholarships from the magazine publisher.
Later, Roy and I became fraternity brothers in the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity at the University of Washington. Shortly after I went to Grand Coulee, Roy came there also and took over the operation of the Grand Coulee Credit Bureau. Later he was elected to the State Legislature as a representative of Grant and Kittitas Counties.
Roy was active in Democratic politics and a close friend of Governor Rosellini. Roy urged me to consider and appointment to the Schwellenbach vacancy. He advised. "Bob, you should go for the appointment to fill the vacancy. You've got to get moving at once. I'll help you. Will you do it?" I agreed.
The next day Roy started calling his friends who were close to the Governor including such influential individuals as the Master of the State Grange, Lars Nelson, and Joe Davis, the President of the State Labor Council of the A.F. of L. and the C.I.O. The word got out I was seeking the appointment, and I received the prompt endorsement of the Grant County Bar Association, along with the editorial endorsement of all five of the newspapers in Grant Count, backed by many letters to the Governor primarily as a result of Roy Mundy's phone calls.
As a Superior Court Judge I had been active in the Superior Court Judges Association and had been elected as the Association's Secretary for over a 7 year period serving as the Association President in 1955. The Judicial Selection Committee of the Washington State Bar Association, headed by my friend and classmate in Law school, Ray Ogden, compiled a list of qualified candidates for the Supreme Court vacancy which included my name. A strong letter recommending my appointment was also written by my friend, Nat Washington who was then the State Senator from our district.
In the company of State Representative Roy Mundy, I made a trip to Olympia to see the Governor, who was gracious, but non-committal. However, the next day I received a phone call from him announcing he was appointing me to fill Justice Schwellenbach's (13) vacancy. There was one condition, however. I had to come over immediately to Olympia to be sworn in so I could go to work to keep the Court form getting further behind. That was no time to argue about details. I accepted the appointment and packed my bags.
The "swearing in" ceremony was set for 9:00 a.m. October 11, 1957. In those days no television or cameras were permitted in the courtroom, even at ceremonial sessions. However, a concession was made on this occasion by allowing a non-flash camera to be used in the rear of the courtroom.
My friend, former Law School Professor, dean of the University of Washington Law School, and President of the Washington State Bar Association, Alfred J. Schweppe, presented me to the Court.
In conformity with the dignity and solemnity of this highest court in the state, the formalities of the proceedings were somewhat "icy."
Chief Justice Matthew W. Hill administered the oath of office, after which the bailiff enshrouded me in a black robe and escorted me to an empty seat at the end of the Supreme Court bench. I was seated next to the former Superior Court Judge of Adams County, my good friend Richard B. Ott.
Shortly after we had moved to Olympia, a welcoming item appeared in the local news. It said Justice and Mrs. Hunter have a fine family, that "they have a daughter who is a Senior in High School; they have a daughter who is a sophomore in High School; and they have a daughter who is in Junior High School; and they have a son three months old who is illiterate and disinterested in education." In those early days on the Court it was often jokingly stated that the Supreme Court consisted of eight old men and Bob Hunter.
The procedures at the state's high court were vastly different from what I was accustomed to as a trial judge. Instead of announcing the disposition of a case at the end of counsel's arguments, we would all stand and file out of the courtroom, heading for our private deliberations in chambers. The decision would be forth-coming in a written form which was final, and part of the law of the State of Washington, (14) unless a federal question was involved. In that instance the case might be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but this rarely happened.
This was quite new to me. At the Superior Court level, the evidence came from the lips of the live witnesses. Here it came to us in one packet of written briefs containing the asserted errors researched by the appealing lawyer. Also, the packet contained the briefs of the winning lawyer in the court below who, of course, argued the contrary.
The cases were assigned prior to argument by rotation in equal numbers to each member of the Court. If the majority of the Court would concur in conference with the assigned judge's version, he was responsible for writing the Court's opinion. Otherwise it would be assigned to another member who had the majority on his side. The Justice losing the assignment would then write the dissenting opinion.
The opinions were, of course, written with the greatest of care, with perfect phraseology and English and exactness, as it would become the decisional law of the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. It was a humbling experience knowing you might be quoting yourself as the authority in a similar case not too far in the future.
Each member of the Court was entitled to one law clerk. Because of his additional administrative duties the Chief Justice had two and sometimes three of the these young assistants. The law clerks were generally selected from the top members of the graduating class of their law school each year.
They helped us considerably, researching questions of law raised in the briefs and examining the record containing the testimony of witnesses.
I always had a great rapport with my law clerks. I regarded them as my students as well as my friends. The training and experience they received was most valuable in preparation for the practice of their profession. I never permitted them to stay with me for more than one year. The sooner they got out into the rough and tumble of law practice the better.
All of my law clerks became very successful lawyers, politicians, or judges. One was a Washington State Senator, Frank Woody; two were District Court Judges, (15) Charles 1. Delaurenti II and David E. Rhea Jr. and one was a Superior Court Judge, Robert J. Dorian, who is now the Senior Superior Judge of Thurston County.
The Supreme court tenaciously followed precedent, custom and tradition. The newest member on the court was the first in line to open the door for the Justices entrance into the courtroom, and the last to enter, and was the last to file out in order to close the door on their departure form the courtroom. On all formal occasions when the Justices were in a "receiving line,” the Chief Justice was first and followed by the others in accordance with heir seniority on the Court. This of course put me at the end of the line and at the "bottom of the totem pole" until a new arrival bumped me up the seniority line.
I had come from such a small county in a sparsely populated area and was not widely known outside the region. I would be running statewide for the retention of my position at the next general election and needed to develop name familiarity throughout the state.
On those occasions when the entire Court was invited as the honored guests, particularly at Bar Association banquets, the Chief Justice would be called upon to say a few words first, and then each Justice in order of seniority would add a few comments. In those early years I would be called on last.
By the time they got to me, my senior colleagues had said about everything there was to say about the Court and many in the audience were dozing off or had lost interest. I admitted there was nothing left for me to say since my senior brethren had eloquently covered it all.
So I started with a story: "When I graduated from high school in 1925 my cousin, another classmate and I left Lawton, Oklahoma, in a Model T "Pick Up" Ford with our camping equipment in the rear, heading west. We ran low on funds and stopped to work for a few weeks at a cattle ranch in Arizona.
While there I learned how to sing the song "Rag Time Cowboy Joe" the way it should be sung. To show you how much I appreciate being here I'm going to sing it for you tonight." I gave them the authentic rendition - with all the required enthusiasm and sincerity the applause was magnificent. I (16) occasionally repeated the performance and left what I thought to be a good impression. I was a Supreme Court Justice, but also a person who could identify with the common citizen.
I was a Supreme Court Justice, but also a person who could identify with the common citizen.
Although writing the Court decisions assigned to me took most of my attention, I still was confronted by my next election. I never declined a speaking engagement. Sometimes the Justices on election day would get a "free ride" by having no opposition.
Filings opened on July 1st of 1958, and I anxiously waited, hoping that I might be so lucky.
As the thirty-day filing period transpired I grew more apprehensive. On the final day I thought I had it made, but just five minutes before the deadline, a prominent lawyer from Seattle came into the office of the Secretary of State and filed for my position. What a let-down. Now I would have to campaign in all 39 counties of the State.
Orville H. Mills, a prominent Seattle lawyer and a Republican, volunteered to be my statewide chairman, and Jerry Schucklin also a well known Seattle lawyer and Democrat volunteered to act as co-chairman. I organized a campaign committee consisting of lawyers in almost every county of the state.
In my own Grant County my good friends Cliff Collins and Ken Earl served as co-chairmen. Ken had many friends throughout the county who, of course, were alerted as to my sterling qualities. Cliff, as well as being an influential lawyer, had a Piper Cub Comanche, which was of great assistance in transporting me quickly about the state.
I visited almost every county during the summer recess, and my campaign tactics fell into a pattern. First, I would go to the local paper with my picture and news story. I made a point to chat with the editor.
To keep my campaign non-partisan, but to touch base with political leaders, I called on both County Chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties.
In the larger cities, I arranged a short interview in the television stations, to be run during the news hour. My loyal court reporter in Ephrata, Marion Shutt, had mailed out to over 150 weekly newspapers in the state a short news story on the occasion of my initial appointment. During the election campaign, many of them (18) reprinted the picture and details from my background.
Campaign posted for Justice Hunter in his bid for reelection after serving 13 years on the Supreme Court. Note overwhelming endorsement by members of the state bar.
After my victory (I won by nearly 10,000 votes) I asked Orville Mills how he ever expected me to repay him and others for their efforts during the campaign. I told him: "Orville, you know I can't show any partiality to you when you come before me in Olympia." He recognized this but was going to extract a favor anyhow. "Judge, all I want is for you to take me goose hunting in Grant County." We became great hunting companions and I never failed to take him goose hunting, with some success, on opening weekends of the season.
At the end of my first full six year term, I was one of the Justices that had a "free ride." No one filed against me. Six years later, I thought I would be in for re-election without opposition again, but found the vagaries of politics are hard to predict. A well known trial lawyer form Seattle had received some reversals in the Supreme Court, and was unforgiving. He demonstrated his displeasure by always filing against the Chief Justice and this time it was my turn. However, I was ready to meet the challenge. I re-activated all of my old committees throughout the state and I again triumphed in the September primaries by nearly 100,000 votes.
Although I enjoyed all my years on the court, to me the greatest of these was during my term as Chief Justice. By that time (1969-70) the Court had gone through quite a transition in breaking away from the cold formalities I had experienced on the occasion of my induction as a new member of the Court in 1957.
I urged a change in the ceremonial session of the Court for all appropriate occasions. Bright lights, television and cameras of any variety were permitted. Even spontaneous applause in the courtroom during such ceremonies was tolerated. Upon the occasion of my induction as Chief Justice a somewhat elaborate ceremony was expected. Speakers representing various groups and organizations were invited to give brief complimentary remarks and best wishes for the new occupant of this high office.
Hu Blonk representing the news media of the state was an old friend of mine from The Grand Coulee days. He was a reporter for the Wenatchee Daily World and the Spokane Chronicle. He subsequently became the Managing Editor of the Wenatchee (19) Daily World and at my induction gave the following address:
From starting your career living in a tent at Grand Coulee dam site to holding the exalted position of Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court is quite a transition for a country lawyer. Because of the fact I'm here today, instead of some much more influential editor who might better represent the news media of this state in this ceremony. I knew Judge Hunter way back when ... when he was a young lawyer, just out of school and starting his practice at Grand Coulee, and I was a cub reporter there for the Wenatchee Daily world and Spokane Chronicle.
I remember the tent in the sagebrush. And how the drinking water in a pail inside would freeze overnight, as mine did in a shaky old cabin. Both Bob - as I still call the Judge - and I remember the cold trips to the water faucet and the outdoor privy. I remember the old Packard that Bob and a friend, with whom he lived, owned in those days and how they parked it near the tent on a slope so that they could get it started the next day coasting down hill. I remember the first office Bob and Cliff Moe had on the edge of a gravel pit. It was a shack-like affair with open knot-holes in the floor. As did this young son of a pioneer Oklahoma lawyer, I, too, waded through the mud of main street. He was always garbed immaculately, in sharp contrast to the sloppy dress of his ''pioneer'' neighbors and the "construction stiffs."
Sometimes construction days were quite a strain for this most dapper young fellow in town. He used to have trouble keeping the rubbers on his shoes when he went across the muddy streets. But he always retained his dignity, spotless personal appearance and hearty laugh. So it's not surprising to me to find Judge Hunter, in every day life, is probable the best dressed Judge in the State.
Bob always figured he helped build Grand Coulee Dam. He once told me: "As a lawyer I used to get the carousers out of jail and get them back to work."
Bob found people at Grand Coulee a bit frustrating at times, legally speaking. Cabin owners would keep the belongings of their tenants until they paid their month's rent - illegal, of course.
His first case involved that sort of thing. He sued a lumber company for $100 because it had removed a house from a lot for an unpaid lumber bill.
But sometimes the young lawyer didn't get paid much. He got a $150 fee in one case and once took a set of fox furs from a woman for winning her divorce.
I know that from the first, Bob has always been civic minded. No doubt someone else here today will list the groups to whom he has given many hours of public (20) service. But I don't think they'll remember, as I do, how Attorney Hunter was one of those who took up a collection to buy Grand Coulee's Chief of Police a six-shooter when it was found the city was short of funds.
All his public life, Bob has been quite a success at winning elections. His first effort was in a race for Grand Coulee City Attorney. He got appendicitis and had to go to the hospital on election day. He still doesn't really know if he won his first election on merit, or on sympathy.
His life's career began to lead toward judgeship during his early days at Grand Coulee. As an attorney he was so disgusted with some of the justice of the peace decisions he'd gotten, that he figured he'd become a judge himself - justice of the peace of Grand Coulee precinct.
For our new Chief Justice, those years at Grand Coulee were, as he recently put it, "part of the most interesting years of my life." But, no doubt, the most satisfying years have come to him in this impressive Temple of Justice.
I became Chief Justice in 1969, an historical year for the courts. The people of the state had approved and amendment to the state constitution authorizing the creation of an Intermediate Court of Appeals. A bill was enacted by the legislature in May of the year, providing for four panels of three judges each. The Supreme Court was directed to provide rules and procedures for the new court. At that time the cases on appeal were 18 months behind schedule and we were anxious to get the new court in operation by the coming fall term in September. With the fullest cooperation of my colleagues, we held emergency conference sessions 2 or 3 times a week even through our vacation periods, fashioning rules for the intermediate appeals bench. By the end of August our work was completed.
The swearing-in ceremony of the 12 new judges who had been appointed by Governor Dan Evans was held in the chambers of the House of Representatives in the Capitol Building. The chamber was filled to overflowing. Our Supreme Court was formally convened and seated in the upper rear of the podium. United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was a special guest and seated to my right.
I opened the ceremony with a few introductory remarks and delivered the oath of office to the 12 new appellate judges who were robed and seated around the podium. Each of the new appellate judges then was called upon for a few remarks after which they received applause of their many admirers and friends in the chambers of the House of Representatives. I then introduced the Honorable Justice William O. (21) Douglas of the United States Supreme Court for his concluding remarks, which was followed by the benediction. It was indeed an historic occasion. The new appellate judges were functioning and in session in their respective courtrooms the following week.
In 1976, by reason of my having completed eleven years on the Superior court and almost twenty years on the Supreme Court, I became the senior judge of the entire state. It was high time for me to wind up my judicial career and lead a more relaxing life. I did not file for re-election and gave notice of my intention to retire at the end of my term on January 9, 1977.
After almost twenty years on the Supreme Court, I became the senior judge of the entire state. It was high time for me to wind up my judicial career and lead a more relaxing life.
In the later part of December the Supreme Court threw a retirement party for me in the reception room of the Chief Justice. The Clerk of the Supreme Court, William Lowry, had sent out beautifully printed invitations, (with tassels) to all my friends and relatives, to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, state wide elected officials, and prominent people throughout the state. In the center of the room was a beautiful table decorated with flowers and loaded with tasty tidbits and desserts. The place was packed with approximately 150 guests.
The eight other Supreme Court Justices made very flattering and complimentary remarks regarding my performance as a member of the Court throughout the almost twenty years of my tenure.
I really believed they meant what they said. (That is my story and I'm sticking with it.) I was called upon by the Chief Justice for a response, and concluding remarks. I stated what a great privilege it was of being able to serve for so many years with such able and esteemed jurists and those present, and thanked my wife, Maureen, and my children and friends for their loyalty and support, and also for the support I had received from the many people throughout the State of Washington. I then concluded with my "Swan Song", believe it or not, "Rag Time Cowboy Joe", for which I received enthusiastic and heart warming applause from everyone present.
Maureen and I moved back to Ephrata in Grant County to my (22) fishing lakes, and back yard gardening, and to Maureen's many bridge playing friends. We live there now, except for the months generally January and February when we spend lolling in the sun in Palm Springs, California, and visiting three of our four children, Marilynn, Patty, and Bob who are all happily married and living in Orange county. We also are blessed in being able to our daughter Janice and her three children the other ten months of the year, who live only seven houses down the street from our Ephrata residence.
Looking back over 50 years to the early days of my law practice, many changes have taken place. The one that impresses me most, is the amazing technical advances in the equipment available for law offices. Electric typewriters of all varieties. Memory typewriters. Display-writer systems that permit the re-arranging and correcting of sentences and paragraphs; and of course always the copier machine. What a time-saver and contribution to the efficiency of the legal profession.
When Cliff Moe and I were practicing law in the early days of Grand Coulee, our office equipment consisted of two Underwood typewriters, stationary, and carbon paper. We never gave the matter a second thought. Of course we didn't know the difference.
There have been vast changes in the operation of our Appellate Court System since my appointment to the Supreme Court in 1957. At that time, tradition and precedent, as I have described, were meticulously observed.
It was a special favor to me when Chief Justice Matthew W. Hill permitted a non-flash bulb camera to be used in the rear of the Court Room at my "swearing in ceremony."
It was a big "break-thru" when the Supreme Court adopted the practice of permitting cameras, television or otherwise, to be used as well as allowing appropriate applause, for ceremonial sessions. This for instance, was a contributing factor for the success of the outstanding installation ceremony for the first twelve Court of Appeals judges in September 1970.
The greatest and the most far (23) reaching of the changes that have taken place on the Supreme Court since my coming on the Court has been in the promulgation of the rules of procedure for the Court of Appeals and the resulting changed procedure for the Supreme Court itself.
Prior to the Court of Appeals every case on appeal went directly to the Supreme Court, which it then considered alone. Now all appealed cases are first filed in the Court of Appeals except when permission is granted by the Supreme Court for them to be first filed there.
Generally those cases would be tax cases, cases of statewide impact, and in instances where a case might be likely to "wind up" in the Supreme Court after going through the Court of Appeals, because of its statewide importance.
Cases in petitions for review of Court of Appeals decisions are granted in the discretion of the Supreme Court, and only when it appears an injustice may have occurred or where it may result in a procedural change, or in a statewide impact.
Before the Court of Appeals was established, the Supreme Court was over eighteen months behind in its case settings, and has since that time become substantially current.
Moreover I am pleased to say as much for the Court of Appeals, as it is also virtually current.
My parting words, I am proud to say, are that in my opinion, we now have one of the finest Appellate Court Systems in the entire nation.