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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘From cattle to court’: New Spokane judge uses experience to make a difference

New Superior Court Judge Jeremy Schmidt is photographed Thursday at Spokane County Courthouse.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Jeremy T. Schmidt’s best tactic to process the drastic, unusual and appalling things he has seen in his career is to hold it, use it to the best of his ability, then let it go.

“Be a channel, not a vessel,” Schmidt said as he clasped his hands. “Experience it for what it needs to be for the job, for justice and to help others.”

This year, the 41-year-old Schmidt was appointed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to replace Judge John Cooney, who was appointed to the Washington Court of Appeals, Division III based in Spokane. Schmidt was a former Spokane County Superior Court commissioner, the senior attorney for the Spokane County Counsel for Defense, a deputy prosecutor in Pend Oreille County and Lincoln County, and teaches law at Gonzaga University, where he is an alumnus.

Nothing Schmidt has dealt with throughout the years has deterred him from moving forward in the justice system, even though there have been quite a few horrific cases he can name off the top of his head. When Schmidt started as an attorney in a smaller office, he was on top of the “heavier” cases right away. Some of those cases included autopsies, gruesome evidence and emotional statements from victims or family members.

“When I’m best, I’m able to take that and hold it. I experience it for what it needs to be, for the job, and then I channel it out. It’s a challenge because sometimes when I look back on these cases I’ve done, I think, ‘Why was I the person that did that?’ ” he said. “Because sometimes, you may not feel worthy of being in that position. But you understand you’re there. You’re the one that’s there to do it.”

That didn’t change the more he climbed the ladder, but it gave him a more valuable perspective.

“Understanding vicarious trauma had more of a cumulative effect overall,” Schmidt said. “But I always loved defense work. I loved doing prosecution work. I have always loved what I was doing.”

Schmidt grew up on a cattle ranch north of Spokane. As a child, Schmidt’s father always hinted that he should be a lawyer someday, a stark contrast to running cattle. But Schmidt liked to argue, so his father never really let it go – even though he encouraged him to pursue whatever he wanted in life.

“My dad said, ‘You can be anything you want. You just can’t be a cowboy,’ ” Schmidt said. “But that was the kind of life I knew.”

When he was younger, he and his brothers attended Gonzaga Prep and ran cattle across the state at the same time. Although law and cattle may not seem similar, Schmidt said it’s much more similar than people think – it all comes down to the universal concept of hard work and perseverance.

“What I learned on the ranch is exactly what got me here,” he said. “Because the one thing I know I can do is work.”

Schmidt acknowledged he has seen “both sides of the coin” when it came to working as a defense attorney and a prosecutor. Each side of that coin rewarded him a fresh outlook on what his goal has always been, which is to be an advocate, he said. As a commissioner, he worked for the Superior Court judges. Now, he is the one making the bigger decisions. Schmidt said he was fortunate to learn from some exceptional judges before him who handled extreme cases with grace and professionalism – like former Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, who had a big impact on motivating him to stay on the same path.

Schmidt admits he has a lot to learn. Every day is different, he said. In his chambers on the third floor of the Spokane County Courthouse, a sign hangs above the door that reads, “I’m still learning.” Judges he knows try and be better every day, he said, including himself.

“You have a real ability as the person making the decisions to affect positive change and to help do the right thing in a case,” Schmidt said. “As cheesy as it may sound, make the world a better place.”