Donald Richter wants to retain his seat as Superior Court Judge for Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.
Richter was appointed to be the Superior Court judgeship by Gov. Jay Inslee in December 2018. He replaced Judge Doug Goelz when Goelz retired at the end of 2018.
Richter was a Pacific County deputy prosecutor before his appointment and has practiced law since 2007. He was in private practice in Spokane before he began working in Pacific County in 2014.
Since becoming judge he partnered with local attorneys and Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services to start a civil law clinic at the Pacific County Courthouse.
Q: What do you have to offer this community as its judge and why should the community retain you?
A: So I’ve spent my career as a trial attorney litigating cases in many different courts in front of many different judges. That has prepared me to bring the skills I’ve learned over the career to this court in Pacific County and Wahkiakum County, this is a dual-jurisdiction court.
The quality of work and the work ethic that I bring I think is reflected by the number of those previous judges that are supportive of me in this position and have endorsed my campaign. The studiousness and commitment to knowing the law, to putting the work in, to getting the right answer. This position is one that the breadth of law that this judge sees can be anything from a family law case in the morning, like today, to a felony case this afternoon.
Throw in a civil issue on land use in between and if you’re not willing to commit yourself to being up to speed on the law, and no one, no one person can have all of that in their mind at once. So you have to be willing to put in the time to prepare for the dockets and treat it with the respect that it deserves.
This is a very crucial position for justice in our counties. Litigants deserve to know that they have a judge that has put the time in not only understanding the case and the pleadings that are in the case, but has spent the time researching the law to make sure that that judge can make the best decision possible for each individual case.
Q: What are some of the values of the Pacific and Wahkiakum communities?
A: We have lived here and been in the community for over five years now and in that five years we’ve had two children born in this community. My eldest son has graduated from South Bend High School. We have six other children that go to school here in the community. We’re very active in our community. And that is reflected by the support that the community has had for this my candidacy.
So in addition to that experience, I also was raised in a very similar community. I was born and raised in a rural community: White County, Arkansas. So I went to Bebe High School, in Bebe. We paid dues to the volunteer fire department of Floyd. … We’re very familiar with the feeling of being off the beaten path.
We have communities that were very close knit and everybody knows everybody and that has benefits and also has challenges — especially when you’re trying to get a jury on a case that doesn’t know necessarily what’s going on. So we have to take extra care here to make sure that we have a fair and impartial jury, that we don’t have biases coming in.
So there’s a lot of awareness to the issues I think that small communities have for the judicial system and I grew up with those communities. The reason we’re here is because we remember the experiences we had growing up and the 4-H, the FFA, the small-town feeling the knowing your neighbor. And having had the opportunity to live in different areas — I can tell you that’s not something that happens everywhere and I think folks that maybe haven’t been out of this area, that always have lived their entire lives here, maybe they take that a little bit for granted.
This is a very unique and wonderful community. The people have been very welcoming and have given so much to my family and I — that it is an honor to serve as their judge.
No, I haven’t lived here my entire life, but I’m very happy to be here now and my family loves it here.
Q: Would you consider the community more merciful or stringent?
A: I think they want someone who is going to follow the law. I think they want to know that everyone will be treated equally and fairly. I think they want to have someone who is going to listen to each individual case, apply the law correctly, and also take into account the situation of that individual case.
We have a wonderful program in our drug court that is doing very well. And has been expanded over the last couple years and the community has embraced that and when they understand that it is not something that is going to lead to — I guess — less accountability.
I think the community is very concerned about accountability. Less so about punishment. Punishment has a place, and it is definitely an important thing. But drug court allows an individual, when they’re ready, to change their life and we bring tools to bear for that individual in a way that has not been done before for them. And it gives them the space hopefully to make that change.
I don’t get much push back from the community thinking that that is too light or … something that the community is not supportive of. In fact, the opposite — the community has been very supportive of it.
When I have come across individuals that are not supportive of drug court … is that, well, you’re not going to hold them accountable. You’re treating them in a way that is not going to protect the community.
When someone comes into drug court they plead guilty as charged and they agree to the highest-level sentence possible for that crime should they not complete drug court. Drug court is an intense 16-month at the minimum process that has built-in weekly checks with me and the court, that has one-on-ones throughout the week. Daily check-ins, urine analysis every week to maintain scrutiny over them. And making sure that they’re on progress they’re doing their treatment and then at the end of that process they do have their criminal case dismissed.
But honestly, I think if you would talk to the drug court participants one of the smallest things that they get out of drug court is getting the case dismissed.
And the biggest benefit to them is changing their life. And that is something that as a message has been very well received in this community. And I think with the growth in what we’ve seen with opioid addiction it is a lot harder for folks to say that’s “an us and them” problem. They see their own children — their parents. They’re dealing with these issues. And that makes it a lot harder to categorize an individual as someone other than a person that they think is worthy of having the chance to change and make better choices and they want to be apart of that. So I’m very pleased with that.
“Mercy,” interesting, the term “mercy.” When someone asks you, “Well, do they deserve mercy or…” Well, mercy is not something you deserve. You deserve justice. If you got what you deserve that’s what we call justice. Mercy is the withholding of just punishment and if drug court or something similar to drug court is seen as mercy then I think it is a very well received mercy.
Q: With the opioid epidemic, do you believe the community needs more treatment resources or more law enforcement resources?
A: I don’t see those two things as being opposed to each other. I think you have to have the enforcement piece. You have to have officers on the street making their arrests, bringing — bringing folks to justice. You can’t fight it with just a treatment standpoint.
People don’t get into drug court — using that example again — if they haven’t been arrested. Unless they’ve been brought to the point where they realize they have to make a change and sometimes you have to hit rock bottom and for a lot of folks that may be being arrested. It might be ending up in jail before they’re ready to make that change.
So no, I don’t see those as being opposed to each other. I think you have to have your best law enforcement response to drugs. I think there is the need to make sure there is less of the supply for individuals. It is one thing to be addicted to a drug, and to choose to have a drug and take a drug and to ruin your life.
To sell a drug to another person and participate in the ruination of another life, that’s a different thing, in my estimation. There are folks that they do this to support their own habits and things like that and, well, that’s still a choice you’re making to put someone else’s life at risk for your own or someone else’s needs above the well being of another person. That’s still a different choice that someone makes when they sell drugs even if it is to feed their own addiction. And those are typically treated differently in our system. Very rarely if ever — I don’t think we have in our drug court ever admitted someone who is pleading guilty to possession with intent, or distribution of a controlled substance. It’s always been possession charges or low-level property crimes that have a root cause in an addiction issue. And even when we have a victim like in a property crime, it’s with the consultation of the victim of the crime.
So I’m very supportive of both the law enforcement role and law enforcement has brought us to a point where we can intervene in this person’s life. And how do we respond to that? I think that’s when you have the treatment and the wraparound services that give the person the best chance to make the right choice. And if they can make the right choice and become good members and participating members in our community then we’re so much the better for it.
Q: What is your greatest professional or personal accomplishment?
The greatest professional accomplishment would be receiving the appointment from the governor’s office. That was a wonderful day. Being sworn in in this courtroom and having your peers and your family be there to celebrate that accomplishment together is a day I would hope and I would wish that everyone could have a day like that.
It’s an amazing thing to have people that have meant so much to you throughout the years come together and celebrate the success and accomplishment that you received and celebrating and wishing you well for your continued success. That is an amazing, amazing thing and that was very touching and very humbling for me and … affirmed the hard work and the commitment that I’ve had over my career. But it also instilled a lot of humility for what is yet to come in the position that I was taking on. So that was my best professional accomplishment.