OLYMPIA – Salvatore “Sam” Cozza, the late Spokane Superior Court judge, left his mark on the Spokane community in part through his rulings from the bench. He left his mark on the state judiciary through his work with the Legislature.
His efforts to improve the court system – make it fairer, more efficient, more accessible – came to be known in the Legislature as “Cozza bills.”
Shortly after the 2017 session convened in January, Cozza died of complications from bypass surgery. But his legacy of working on judicial reforms continued. The last Cozza bill, which streamlines the way a judge can be disqualified from hearing a case, was signed into law Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee after passing the Senate and House unanimously.
On Tuesday, the Senate – which is sometimes at odds with its co-equal government branch, the judiciary – adopted a resolution honoring Cozza with his widow Megan, children Claire and Joey, and other family and friends in the gallery. He was lauded as a pillar of the community and the embodiment of civic mindedness.
Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who served on the Spokane County District Court bench with Cozza and became a longtime friend, described him as a person with a brilliant mind and a great heart. He was also “the leading expert on criminal rules in the state,” Padden said.
Sen. Jamie Pedersen, of Seattle, the ranking Democrat on that committee, said Cozza was a “frequent guest” of the panel, something only a few judges are willing to do.
Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said the first case she tried in Washington was in front of Cozza, with three Spokane attorneys who all knew the judge. She was afraid of being “down-homed,” but Cozza was gracious and welcoming.
“We have lost a great legal mind,” she said.
Megan Cozza said her husband would be “blown away” with a formal tribute on the floor of the Senate. She knew her late husband was active in making needed improvements to the courts but had no idea they were called Cozza bills.
“He was so humble,” she said. “He was always a rule follower. He liked people to do the right thing and believed in holding people to a high standard.”
People who appeared before her late husband as criminal defendants have told her he saved their lives, Megan Cozza said. “He wasn’t easy on them but he was very respectful.”
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