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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Newly retired judge looks back on career

John Schultheis was a judge in the Spokane area from 1974 until his recent retirement from the state appeals court. (Dan Pelle)
Toms@Spokesman.Com, (509) 459-5492

John A. Schultheis, 75, retired last week from the Washington State Court of Appeals. He had been Spokane’s longest-serving active judge, with 35 years on the bench. After graduating from Gonzaga University Law School, he started working as a private attorney in 1962. He was appointed to the Spokane County District Court in 1974. He won a seat on the appeals court in 1993 and stayed there until last week.

Q.What will you do after retiring?

A.I’ve thought about offering to help with legal services here in Spokane. I will volunteer, because who would pay me?

Q.What’s your impression of today’s attorneys?

A.I can say we’ve had high-caliber attorneys in the Spokane area. We’ve always had them. If anything, the young lawyers I see now are better all-around lawyers, in part because there’s more specialization among attorneys.

Q.Out of all the cases and trials you’ve done, which one still stays with you?

A.I was “married” to the Al Hegge case. Married in the sense that it tied me up for a long time, when I tried that case in Superior Court in 1985. It involved the murder of Spokane police Officer Brian Orchard.

(Hegge, then president of the Ghost Riders motorcycle club, was charged with second-degree murder for arranging the crime.)

The trial lasted six weeks. Hegge represented himself with standby (court-appointed) counsel. It was the most complicated case I ever tried. I ruled he was incompetent to represent himself. But he appealed, and the Court of Appeals ruled he could proceed on his own.

He was convicted (and is serving a life sentence). In 35 years there was not a day I didn’t enjoy coming to work, with the exception of the Hegge trial.

Q.How did you fare in judicial elections?

A.In 1979 I ran against a sitting judge (in Superior Court). I was beaten resoundingly. (In 1983, Gov. John Spellman appointed Schultheis to fill a Superior Court vacancy.)

In 1993 I ran for an open judge seat at the Court of Appeals. I ran against former court commissioner Mike Keyes, former County Prosecutor Don Brockett and Spokane attorney Judith Corbin. Mr. Brockett and I came through the primary, and in the general election I got 60 percent of the votes.

Q.Of your four children, how many decided to enter the law?

A.My oldest son, Patrick, 45, went to work at a Palo Alto, Calif., law firm, Wilson Sonsini. Now he’s in the firm’s Seattle office.

Andrew, my other son, 39, is with the (Spokane) firm Witherspoon Kelley.

I discouraged them from going to law school because I didn’t want them to feel they had to follow me or that I expected them to go into the law.

Q.You had a reputation as one of the area’s more liberal judges. Is that fair?

A.I insisted that a prosecutor must prove his or her case. People might have said I was more defense-oriented. I don’t think so. That’s an oversimplification. I wanted to make sure the rights of the defendant are protected.

Q.Looking back, what would you have done differently in your career?

A.I would have spent more time with the kids.

I’m going to try to spend more time with the grandkids.