For Yakima County Superior Court Judge Gayle Harthcock, court was adjourned for the last time Wednesday.
Harthcock, who was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2014 by Gov. Jay Inslee, retired. Prior to her appointment, she had been a court commissioner for six years, hearing all but jury cases in Superior Court.
Presiding Judge Richard Bartheld said Harthcock will be missed.
“Gayle was really instrumental in keeping up with changes in the law and putting together training classes for the judges,” Bartheld said. “She would put together learning lunches and explain what we should be looking for.”
While she came from a background in family law, Harthcock has handled several high-profile cases, including a public records case involving allegations of an illegal Selah City Council vote and a brutal Granger homicide.
Sonia Rodriguez True, a court commissioner, was appointed to replace Harthcock.
An Omak native, Harthcock graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and obtained a law degree at the University of Puget Sound School of Law. She served as a law clerk for a judge on the Court of Appeals of Alaska and worked as an attorney in Alaska, Seattle and Yakima.
The following has been edited for clarity and space.
What led you into a career in law?
When I was in high school, I had an opportunity to observe at the prosecuting attorney’s office in Okanogan County. That attorney took me under his wing and took me to the courtrooms and to the appellaqte court in Spokane. He and his wife and I traveled over there and we watched an argument that he participated in. I think that was the beginning of it. It gave me an opportunity to do something besides schoolwork. It was really interesting as a teenager to see those things and realize you could have a career in it.
At that time, were you ever thinking about becoming a judge?
At that point, I was just wanting to go to college and see where my career took me at that point.
How did you decide to go from being an attorney to serving on the bench?
I had a private practice here in Yakima for a number of years, and there was a job opening for a full-time court commissioner with the court in 2008. I got a call from Judge (Ruth) Reukauf encouraging me to apply. I got a call from Commissioner (Robert) Inouye encouraging me to apply. It wasn’t something I had really considered up to that point. I had done a number of jobs (serving as a temporary judge) through different courts, so they were familiar with my work. So I applied and got the job, and that’s how it started.
How was your transition from being an advocate to being a judge?
My practice was primarily adoptions and guardianships and some work. It wasn’t really heavy on litigation. I don’t think I had as hard a time transitioning as maybe some of the other folks would have who are coming in as trial attorneys and are coming on to the bench. Because I had pro-temmed and so I had an opportunity to do that before I became a judicial officer on a full-time basis.
It’s always a challenge for all of us. Because we always want to make things go our way. When you become a judge, you realize that winning is for one of the parties and not for the judge. You have to remain neutral and listen to both sides before making up your decision based on the facts and the law.
What would you say is the most memorable case you heard, and why?
A number of criminal cases come to mind, criminal jury trials, but some I cannot comment on because they are still up in the court of appeals. The one that has been decided by the court of appeals was (the murder trial of Jaime Munguia Alejandre). That was probably most memorable for me and some of the jurors because it’s hard to unsee some of those (evidentiary) photographs. I used to work for the court of appeals in Alaska and that was another thing, we would see those kind of photographs in the record, and it’s just so hard to unsee things. I think the effect it had on the children in the family, just discovering the body that way. It was a tough one for everybody. I also felt for the people in the courtroom who had to observe that repeatedly.
Another case that was interesting was a medical malpractice case. It had to do with a back repair, and the attorneys on both sides were tremendous. The attorneys on both sides were so well prepared and willing to work with each other.
What is one thing you would like people to know about the justice system?
I think the one thing about the justice system is it is what we have, it is the best we have and it’s our constitutional system. That doesn’t mean that mistakes cannot be made by judges. We’re just people and I was talking to one of the appellate court judges recently, and he just basically reiterated that for all levels. We’re all humans. We come to work, we put our shoes on one at a time just like anybody else. We do the best we can, but it’s perfect.
How do you maintain your work-life balance?
I do a number of things. I have a close relationship with my family, and I make sure the focus is on them when I’m with them and the focus is on work when I’m at work. I am also an avid member of the Y and I usually get down to the Y a couple times a week. When the Y was downtown, we had a group group of friends. A federal court judge, a district court judge and myself and we would visit during the lunch hour about the news and what people were doing. That always was refreshing for me, to get out and think about things that don’t involve work.
I just enjoy doing art, gardening, walking and hiking. Right now, I’m doing acrylic pouring. It’s really fun and messy, so it is cathartic. I also have over the years worked on hot glass making lamp work beads.
What are your plans for the future?
The plan is to perfect the fine art of doing nothing. Just relaxing for a while and then do some travel, spend time with family and friends, and work on my art.