MONTESANO — Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey gave notice to Gov. Jay Inslee this week that he intends to retire, effective Oct. 1.
“I know when it’s time for me to get out of Dodge and that time has come,” Godfrey said.
Godfrey said he left the courthouse on Monday and unless he’s really needed, he has no plans on coming back.
“I have accrued vacation and the bottom line is I’m not into this, ‘Let’s have a party mindset.’ I’m not into that stuff. I think I’d rather get in my car and drive off into the sunset.”
Godfrey said he will recommend an appointment, but needs to discuss the recommendation with the candidate first.
Meantime, Grays Harbor District Court Judge Stephen Brown and Elma attorney Jean Cotton have announced that they will contact the Governor’s Office and will seek the appointment.
“I will be applying to the governor to be appointed to superior court,” Brown said. “Congratulations to Judge Godfrey and he’s really set a high standard for what you can do as a judge.”
Cotton has worked in the Superior Courts as a Commissioner Pro Tem and Judge Pro Tem.
The notice from Godfrey, dated Aug. 4, states: “Having served as superior court judge for the state of Washington for over 22 years, it is now time to look forward to my retirement. Therefore, this correspondence is my notice to you of my resignation from the Office of Superior Court of Grays Harbor County, effective Oct 1, 2014. It has been an honor to serve the citizens of this state.”
Godfrey has served as a superior court judge for 22 years. Before that, he was a part-time municipal judge for the city of Aberdeen for seven years. He served as a senior managing partner of Phillips, Krause and Brown, before becoming a judge.
Fellow Superior Court Judge Mark McCauley noted that he has worked with Judge Godfrey since December of 1993.
“In fact, as a teen, he coached me in baseball,” McCauley said. “He’s been a great friend and a great colleague.”
McCauley said that because of Judge Godfrey, the courts are better today in addressing the unfunded mandates pressed upon the courts and the counties, in particular, by the state. Godfrey had served on numerous court committees and has addressed lawmakers over the years about the importance of proper funding of the courts.
“As a result, we have a pretty strong superior court judges association that helps lobby on our behalf,” McCauley said.
Superior Court Judge David Edwards praised Godfrey for his work on the county’s juvenile justice system, in particular.
“Judge Godrey has been an outstanding judge for over two decades and his most important contribution was his complete reinvention of the juvenile court system in our county,” Edwards said. “He inherited a juvenile court system that was never a high priority in previous years and he made it the highest priority and it has remained so up to today and he gets all the credit. He helped countless young people become productive adults. I think that will be his legacy as a judge.”
McCauley says that the public may know Godfrey best from his quips and remarks during court and sentencing, but he’s never actually witnessed them.
“I’ve heard all these stories or read about them in the paper, but I’ve never had the experience in the court with him,” McCauley said.
Judge Godfrey had some pretty big re-trials in front of him with the controlled substances homicide trial of Brenda Zillyette and the trial of Steven Pink, the man who ordered a bombing that severely injured his probation officer in Montesano 15 years ago, both up for a re-do this fall.
Godfrey said he decided not to wait.
“I have a life to live,” Godfrey said.
Godfrey’s good friend, former county commissioner Mike Murphy, died unexpectedly in June.
“Mike was my friend of 50 years,” Godfrey said. “I knew when my retirement day was, but, if nothing else, Mike’s death confirmed I made the right decision.”
One thing Godfrey says he expects to do in retirement is do more research, and perhaps write a book about John Tornow, the Wildman of the Wynooche, who was killed in a hail of gunfire 101 years ago on April 16, 1913.
Godfrey has been the presiding judge of the superior court for years now. Judge McCauley said that he and Judge Godfrey had talked and are nominating Judge Edwards to be the next presiding judge.
“I think Judge Edwards has demonstrated a great knowledge and has already stepped up as a leader in working with the county commissioners,” McCauley said. “I think he’ll be a great fit for the new role.”
Judge Brown, 58, just filed for re-election for his district court seat. He’s running unopposed.
The Elma High School graduate went on to attend Stanford University and the University of Washington School of Law.
He began his career in 1980 as a deputy prosecutor for Grays Harbor and went on to serve in private law practice. He served as an Elma municipal court judge for about two years and he was elected to district court in 1986.
Brown said that he had actually put his name in for the superior court seat when Judge Godfrey first did some 22 years ago.
Judge Brown has been the point person in working with the county commissioners on the district court budget over the years. In 2007, he worked with the county commissioners to implement a mandatory mediation program in District Court as a means to reduce cases seen by judges and getting parties to work together.
“This gets the parties all together and gets them to work things out in a setting where nothing is forced on them,” Brown said. “It’s been pretty successful.”
As a Superior Court judge, Brown said he would be “interested in focusing a lot more on the law and a little bit less on court administration. I’m still concerned about that, but I’d like to see a drug court established in this county and have been working behind the scenes to educate myself on what that would take and I would like to expand the use of mediation in family and juvenile court. I think the parent teen mediation strategy implemented by Judge Edwards has been fantastic and I’d like to see that expanded.”
Whoever Gov. Inslee appoints would still need to stand for election. However, it’s been quite a while since a sitting superior court judge was ever challenged in an election.
Cotton got her law degree from the University of Puget Sound School of Law, now Seattle University School of Law. She has been a member of the Washington State bar Association Family Law Section Executive Committee since 2001 having served as Chair in 2007-2008. She is currently a member of the state bar association’s Local Court Rules Task Force and has also served on the Washington Supreme Court Dissolution Task Force and as a Washington Delegate to the Family Law Council of Community Property States. She was the recipient of the bar association’s Family Law Section Attorney of the Year award in 2008.