Spokane Municipal Court Judge Kristin O’Sullivan and her colleagues were eager to make it official.
The Gonzaga Law School and Washington State University alumnus took the oath of office Friday evening, filling a vacancy left by Tracy Staab, who is now a member of the state’s Court of Appeals following the November election. O’Sullivan has served the past two years as an appointed commissioner in the municipal court, which handles parking and other civil infractions, as well as criminal misdemeanors and other matters determined by law.
“I’ve been involved in the criminal justice system for 17 years,” said O’Sullivan, a 2004 graduate of Gonzaga Law. “That is why I feel I have the background to prepare me for this position.”
O’Sullivan’s nomination was forwarded by Mayor Nadine Woodward earlier this month, and confirmed by the Spokane City Council on Thursday.
“We were looking for someone who has a well-rounded judicial background, believes in accountability, and is experienced in the therapeutic and problem-solving courts,” Woodward said in a statement announcing the nomination. “Kristin is well-respected by her peers and her experience with all elements of the Municipal Court process set her apart.”
Prior to her time as a commissioner, O’Sullivan worked as a prosecutor both in the municipal and district court of Spokane County. While a member of the county prosecuting team, O’Sullivan said she handled cases involving involuntary commitments, which occur when law enforcement or a mental health professional request in-patient treatment for a defendant. She also worked on cases put forth by the Washington Gambling Commission.
O’Sullivan said she believes municipal judges have a role to play in making sure the criminal justice system works for all defendants, who may have differing needs when they enter the courtroom. The municipal court has, in recent years, established many therapeutic courts intended as a way to discharge cases with an eye toward reduced recidivism, including a DUI court, a veterans court, a mental health court and a community court that pairs defendants with social services.
“For me, it’s important to really serve with humility and grace, to understand where individuals are coming from,” O’Sullivan said. “We want the community to trust the system. We have to be transparent, to communicate and put ourselves out there.”
O’Sullivan’s predecessor, Staab, presided over the DUI court. O’Sullivan joins a panel that includes two other municipal judges, Presiding Judge Matthew Antush and Assistant Presiding Judge Mary Logan.
In her role as a commissioner, O’Sullivan heard the same cases as elected judges. Commissioners do not hear bench or jury trial cases unless the parties agree, but can handle preliminary appearances and other proceedings. Municipal judges earn an annual $181,000 salary.
O’Sullivan, who moved to Spokane from the West Side a decade ago and said she’s fallen in love with the city, also said she’s looking forward to the work and preparing for her first political campaign. She’ll have to run in November to keep the seat she was appointed to, as its term expires in 2021.
“We love it here, and that’s another reason I wanted to continue to be in public service,” she said. “I was born and raised in Washington, and I want to continue to serve this community.”
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