In early November, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the appointment of Friday Harbor-based attorney Kathryn (Katie) Loring as San Juan County Superior Court Judge. Loring replaces retiring Judge Donald Eaton.
“Katie has broad legal experience and is deeply involved in the San Juan Islands community,” Inslee said. “She has an in-depth understanding of the issues that impact that region of our state, and she is widely respected for her skills as an advocate as well as her commitment to community service. I know that she will make a great addition to the bench.”
Currently a partner at Goddu Langlie Loring Sandstrom in Friday Harbor, Loring will be leaving the firm and transitioning her practice to accept this new full-time role in the courthouse.
“In terms of this role, I’m motivated to ensure a justice system that is accessible and fair to all members of our community regardless of their race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or any other status,” Loring told the Journal. “I think that a fair and accessible justice system is essential to a healthy and strong society.”
Loring’s deep commitment to the community is evident in the way she spends her free time.
“I really care about all members of our community,” she said. Loring has offered her services pro bono, or low bono (at reduced cost) on many occasions to help make sure people are represented fairly in court – “especially where I feel that there is a power differential,” she emphasizes. “I have tried to assist people and meet them where they are, to the extent that I can do that.”
Loring has been involved in pro bono representation of non-professional lay guardians, who tend to be family members, through a program started by the San Juan County bar association. She’s also offered her services to prepare powers of attorney for immigrant families. She has conducted family law seminars, pro-bono consultations at an Oak Harbor senior center, and given presentations on estate planning and elder law issues. And she has served as a coach for Friday Harbor High School’s mock trial program, a part of the school’s government class, and has been involved with Soroptimist International, whose mission is to improve the lives of women and girls, since 2008.
“That’s been a great way to contribute to our community here,” she says.
Loring mentors an elementary school student through the San Juan Island Family Resource Center and serves on the San Juan Island County Library District Board of Trustees.
And she counts herself fortunate to be currently taking a Spanish class offered by the resource center, because having a little knowledge of the language gives her a way to “meet people where they are and make them feel welcome and included,” she said.
As Loring makes the transition from attorney to judge, she said, there’s always a lot to learn.
Over last year she served as a pro-tem superior court commissioner, filling in when Eaton was traveling or unavailable.
“I’ve really worked hard to prepare myself for that role,” she explained. Loring has spent many hours observing court, researching old case files, listening to past hearings, and otherwise becoming well-versed on issues she’s likely to encounter in court that she has not formally handled through her law practice (including criminal law). As a new judicial appointee, Loring is also slated to attend formal judicial college in January 2018, which will cover issues likely to come before the court.
The Journal asked Loring about the history of female judges in San Juan County. San Juan County was only recently allotted its own superior court judicial district, in 2008, and the position has been filled only by Eaton and his predecessor John Linde. Prior to that, San Juan County shared a superior court judicial district with Island County under judges Alan Hancock and Vickie Churchill, who still serves as superior court judge. Churchill was preceded by another female judge, Joan McPherson.
Meanwhile, San Juan County district court Judge Stewart Andrew, who took office in 1998, is now in his fifth term.
“There has not been much significant gender diversity in the justice system historically, and specifically in San Juan County” said Loring, “so I think people are excited about my appointment in part for that reason.”
While district court has jurisdiction over criminal and gross misdemeanors, traffic and non-traffic infractions, parking infractions, civil suits up to $100,000, small claim suits up to $5,000, civil protection orders and name change petitions, superior court handles everything else: family law, criminal felonies, real estate and civil suits above the dollar amounts handled by district court.
In her prior work experience, Loring served as an associate attorney at the Law Offices of Christon Skinner in Friday Harbor and Oak Harbor from 2008 to 2016. Before that, she worked as an associate at Perkins Coie in Seattle, and served as judicial clerk to Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst. A member of the San Juan County Bar Association, she served as president in 2011 and 2012. Loring received her law degree from Boston College Law School and her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Rochester in New York. An avid cyclist, Loring can often be seen commuting to work in Friday Harbor by bicycle with her husband Kyle.
She says San Juan County has been lucky to have Eaton, whom she calls “a really thoughtful, compassionate judge.” As she prepares to step into his place, Loring adds, “I am honored to have been selected by the governor and I am honored to serve our community in the role as superior court judge.”