A U.S. Founding Father’s quote on the importance of the justice system hangs above the door of the San Juan County District Court. America’s Declaration of Independence lines a wall, and a portrait of former U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall is mounted nearby.
Such pieces were cultivated by Judge Stewart Andrew during his 20 years on the bench.
“These artifacts are significant,” said San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord, “because they drive home an enduring feature of Judge Andrew’s legacy: a consistent application of the law in changing circumstances.”
On Jan. 11, Andrew officially stepped down after two decades of unwavering service, as a new era in district court begins with his replacement Carolyn Jewett.
District court is the lower court in San Juan County and has jurisdiction over cases like parking infractions, misdemeanors and preliminary hearings on felony cases.
Andrew was first elected to the open seat in 1998. Back then, roughly 3,000 fewer people lived in the county, and the district court had one only computer. He had been living in the islands for about a decade before he decided to run for office thanks to advice from a district court administrator.
Andrew moved to Orcas Island to escape the fast-paced San Francisco Bay Area, but his strong work ethic often got in the way. Before Gaylord began practicing law on the islands, Andrew gave him advice in a letter.
“Although with each passing day it gets a little better, working in paradise is still working,” he wrote. “I find myself forgetting to smell the roses all too often.”
Now, Andrew and his wife Cindy will have more time to appreciate the beauty of the islands by tending to their garden and pond. Andrew plans to travel more, but also to stay home to exercise and fly fish.
“I’m feeling my age,” he explained, “and it was time to let a younger person have the opportunity [to be the judge]. I’m excited about the future of the courts.”
At 28, Jewett is starting a journey that, for Andrew, stretched over five consecutive terms. Jewett, who served as the district court prosecutor for the past three years, said she decided to run for judge after witnessing the court’s “opportunities for offenders to make meaningful change.”
“I’m honored to be Judge Andrew’s successor,” she said. “I think that [his] length of service in and of itself is a huge benefit to the community.”
Andrew is helping Jewett transition, which includes bestowing advice on duties both inside and outside the courtroom. Personal relationships, said Jewett, can create conflicts if a familiar person appears in court, so “judges have to conduct themselves off the bench in a way that does not interfere with their duties on the bench.”
This can create isolation, noted newly retired San Juan County Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton.
“Being a judge is a lonely occupation, especially in a small rural community … with few judges to turn to for support,” he said.
To lessen the feelings of seclusion, Eaton said he and Andrew regularly met over his eight years on the bench and encouraged both of their successors to do the same.
Plans to decorate the courtroom are also on Jewett’s mind, including possibly adding Samish or Coast Salish art. Like Andrew’s pieces, the new judge wants to “set the tone” for visitors and leave her own mark on the district court.