John Schultheis, one of Spokane’s best-known, most-admired judges, died early Tuesday at his home in north Spokane. Schultheis, who retired from the Washington state Court of Appeals in 2009, was 79.
After 35 years as a judge, Schultheis spent his retirement in Spokane with his wife, Kay, their four children and their grandchildren.
In a 1999 interview in The Spokesman-Review, Schultheis had this advice for young lawyers: “Spend more time in the raising of your kids.”
For more than a dozen years Schultheis also advocated for changes in drug laws. He insisted that prosecuting people for lower-level drugs like marijuana was pointless and wasted court and government resources.
Growing up near Colton in the Palouse, Schultheis went to Washington State University and then Gonzaga University Law School.
After several years in private practice, he was appointed to Spokane County District Court in 1974 and then to Spokane County Superior Court in 1983. He won a seat on the Court of Appeals in 1993.
His colleagues and friends described Schultheis as compassionate and hard-working.
“He grew up on the farm where you get up early and work till the sun goes down,” said retired Court of Appeals Judge Philip Thompson, a close friend.
“He maintained that approach right up to his last day on the court. He really loved being a judge.”
Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor worked with Schultheis for more than a decade. “He was very convivial and friendly, and those were the first qualities of his you saw,” she said.
“But then you also learned he was very intelligent. He really loved the law,” she said.
That devotion to justice was one of the traits any attorney who argued before him understood quickly, said Kevin Korsmo, a current Court of Appeals judge and former county prosecutor.
In Superior Court years ago, Korsmo prosecuted an 18-year-old boy charged with taking part in a downtown robbery with older friends. The boy was convicted, and the standard sentence would have sent him to prison.
But Schultheis gave the boy a lesser sentence, sending him to county jail instead of prison, Korsmo said. He justified the sentence saying it was the young man’s first serious crime and that rehabilitation was better than prison.
The prosecutor’s office appealed the sentence, saying it was too lenient. The Court of Appeals – where both men later ended up as judges though not at the same time – backed Schultheis on the sentence.
“That was the kind of man John was,” Korsmo said. “He would do what he could to give people the appropriate sentence, even if he had to fight to do it.”
Information about services had not been announced Tuesday.