President Joe Biden recently announced he would appoint a Black female to the U.S. Supreme Court. He followed that announcement with a nominee in Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has experience as a trial judge and the rare experience of defending poor people charged with a crime.
More counties and cities need to consider minorities for service in judgeships. A recent opportunity was available to Federal Way for a municipal court judge. In contrast to the president, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who is running for King County Prosecutor, helped appoint a second white male, Brad Bales, to the vacated judge position in the city’s Municipal Court, which demonstrated how different their priorities may be. Ferrell has only appointed one Black person to an executive level position in his years as mayor. That person, Adé Ariwoola, did an outstanding job as finance director.
Biden is sending a message of his confidence in people of color, in this generation. But the next generation needs to see people who look like them in executive level jobs so they know if they work hard enough, that could be them. A great opportunity was missed to send the next generation the same message. People of color are arrested and pulled over disproportionality to white drivers, and for them to see a city courtroom with a judge that looked like them? It would be a huge incentive. We may never know what great legal mind we missed because Biden showed more confidence in people of color than Ferrell. The census shows a significant growth of people of color in the community, and the school district is one of the most diverse districts in the state and nation. Until recently, the superintendent was a person of color and she is now training future superintendents.
Ferrell received some very pointed criticism for not appointing a person of color and not ensuring more effort was made in recruitment from minority organizations. Lyn Idahosa, Federal Way Black Collective director, asked community members to oppose the appointment of Bales to the Federal Way Municipal Court. “Yet again the mayor did not inform members of the Black and Brown community of this crucial position, to request our city include stakeholders in the selection process and interview panel,” she said.
Ferrell established quarterly meetings that included many Black and Brown people active in the community because he was concerned that former State Rep. Kristine Reeves might run against him for mayor last year. People of color in the community have also encouraged hiring a human services staff person to help recruit more people of color as police officers and civilians for city positions. The group had also requested body cameras for all police officers many months ago, so an accurate picture could be taken when police officers use force. The city is just now implementing that plan .
The judgeship became available when Judge Rebecca Robertson resigned from the Federal Way Municipal Court in December 2021. The process has the mayor recommending a candidate with the approval of the city council. The top five candidates were selected by the city’s human services director and reviewed by a panel that included Council President Linda Kochmar, Deputy Mayor Susan Honda, retired Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Niven, Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett, criminal defense attorney Todd Howard, Dan Papke of Hart Insurance, and Everyone Can Win consulting director Winston Bell. Bell was apparently the only person of color to have had a significant role.
Ferrell than interviewed the final three candidates. But to not have people of color have a stronger presence on the stakeholder committee or have candidates of color in the final set of interviews raised many questions about the transparency of the process.
Idahosa wrote in a newsletter that without input from the BIPOC community, they will continue to be stifled “as we are dismissed in the progress we have worked so hard for.” In turn, she added, community members will continue to receive disproproportionaly harsher sentences for minor crimes and crimes of survival that affect the marginalized children and families in Washington.
When Bales’ name came up for approval as judge, Ferrell spoke defensively about Bales and the process, and Bales he was approved 5-1 by the city council. Lydia Assefa-Dawson, one of two minorities on the city council , voted against approving Bales. But other residents spoke against the process and lack of inclusion by members of the Black and Brown community.
At the most recent meeting between the members of the Federal Way Black Collective and Ferrell, Ferrell spoke against continuing the planning meetings where each side can add to the agenda “because they were not productive.” Not only did he receive pushback comments from participants who felt insulted, but other speakers had to remind Ferrell that the agenda was not his to set, and that it was their agenda and they invited him.
Ferrell did back-pedal on discontinuing the meetings, but had the process included more stakeholders from the different groups and cultures in our community, it could have been a shining moment — not one where participants felt insulted and unappreciated in their community.
Another issue to watch that is supported by people of color is the county’s Restorative Community Pathways program, which Ferrell continues to question. The city council recently held a coffee meeting that included many residents who were knowledgable and supportive of this diversion program designed to keep young people out of the legal system. Not a good month for Ferrell. And not a good start for Judge Bales.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.