Zoomin' with the kids!
King County Superior Court is the largest trial court in Washington state. Superior Court judges hear felony criminal cases and civil cases dealing with every issue imaginable, including landlord-tenant disputes, injured workers, child custody and divorce, and juveniles at risk. Hillary, who has practiced as a civil legal aid attorney and focused her career on advancing the needs of vulnerable children and youth, understands the role of the courts in addressing structural injustices. She’s running for judge because she believes those behind the bench need to honor the dignity of every person, and also recognize and fix systemic failures of our legal system.
What follows are Hillary’s thoughts and her record on addressing some of the core issues that lead to structural injustices in our court systems.
Youth in Juvenile Detention
More than 10,000 youth are arrested in Washington state every year. Too many of these youth are youth of color and too many are experiencing homelessness. Until recently, almost every arrest essentially meant a life sentence for these youth. They had a public record and lifelong debt due to legal fees that followed them everywhere. Now, 95% of these youth will see their records sealed upon their 18th birthday due to laws Hillary helped pass through legislative, trial, and appellate advocacy with colleagues at Columbia Legal Services. Hillary was also part of the legal team to challenge solitary confinement practices in King County, meeting frequently with youth in confinement and advocating for changes to laws that hindered judges from considering the full circumstances of youth before sending them to adult court.
Hillary in the news on this issue:
Justice Declined: Washington State Bar News, NW Lawyer, November 2017
Juvenile Rehabilitation a Priority in Washington's Legislative Session : Spokane Inlander, March 12, 2016
Seal the Deal: New Law Gives Youths a Break: Real Change News, May 25, 2015
The impact of COVID-19 on the King County Superior Court has resulted in a backlog of cases directly impacting vulnerable families, children, and youth. Needs have skyrocketed during this pandemic, while the processes to help children and their families have ground to a halt. In family law court, some parents have also used COVID-19 as an excuse to deny the other parent visitation. On the dependency side, children and families continue to struggle with visitation. Attorneys report that some babies have not seen, smelled, or touched their mothers in months.
If elected, Hillary will be one of the first judges on the King County Superior Court with the experience of representing children and youth in foster care. Hillary will also be one of the few judges with family law experience prior to joining the Court. Filling these gaps matters when the Court is struggling to fill the backlog.
Almost 40,000 children across King County don’t have a safe and stable home to return to after school. That’s roughly 1 child in every classroom, with children of color being the hardest hit by homelessness. Hillary worked closely with her clients and advocates to convince legislators to invest in the Homeless Student Stability Program, making Washington state one of the first to protect these children. This program was part of an amendment to state laws related to improving educational outcomes for homeless students through increased identification services, in-school support, and housing stability.
Hillary in the news on this issue:
Statehouse vacillates on whether to fund homeless student funding: Seattle Weekly, March 31st, 2016
Paying the Price of Education: Real Change News, September 2, 2015
Roughly 7,000 children and youth are in foster care in Washington state. While the system continues to need improvement, especially in confronting deep racial inequities--it has made tremendous gains in reducing multiple placements, improving education outcomes, and bettering mental health care. Hillary served as part of the legal team at Columbia Legal Services fighting to transform foster care. She also worked on extending the foster care program to provide housing for more than 1,000 youth who never find a permanent family or way out of the system. While Washington state continues to deny the right to counsel for every child in foster care, Hillary was one of the leaders in the campaign to protect our legal system’s most vulnerable children, a campaign that has helped thousands of children now have counsel in Washington.
Hillary testifying at the state legislature on this issue:
Although data is hard to find, estimates suggest 4,600 youth or more have no parents available to care for them. These unaccompanied youth are facing long odds – terrible academic outcomes, higher likelihood of school discipline, and higher likelihood of being thrust into the juvenile justice system. Hillary actively participated with hundreds of advocates across the state to create the Office of Homeless Youth, which provides prevention and protection programs. For her participation, Hillary represented unaccompanied youth in Olympia fighting to improve access to basic healthcare and ensure host home programs throughout Washington stayed open.
Racism has deep roots and is embedded in our systems of government, including our legal system.
The demand for justice rising from our streets powerfully demonstrates a lack of confidence in our legal system wrought by systemic, institutional, and individual acts of racism. The courts play a role in our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. Laws determine access to healthcare, education, safe housing, sustainable wages, nutritious food, and our personal freedom.
Judges are central to delivering justice. Judges must make decisions that require understanding multiple perspectives, and therefore must seek to understand people in their courtrooms. Judges should visit prisons, build relationships with communities and people impacted by our legal system, and ask how they can contribute to transformative change.
Talking about change makes some judges uncomfortable. No one wants to be accused of activism or making “political” rulings. Yet centuries of traditional judging have often served to reinforce the status quo, rather than deliver access to justice. We need judges willing to get uncomfortable and change courtroom culture and how information is shared with litigants. We must own up to the fact that inequality pervades our civil and criminal systems.
Hillary's own legal practice reflects the stark reality of the King County Superior Court, where the juvenile justice and foster care systems do not treat all children equally. Children of color, children with disabilities, LGBTQ children, and children from other marginalized communities are targeted and especially vulnerable to abuse. She is proud to have represented clients in trial and appellate courts as well as the state legislature to highlight racial disproportionality among youth experiencing homelessness and serving time in detention, investigated abuse against immigrant detainees, and challenged unfair collateral consequences of legal system involvement.