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Senators Murray, Cantwell Announce New Members of Judicial Merit Selection Committee for the Western District of Washington, Prioritizing Historic Diversity of Background and Professional Experience

Mar 29 2021

The nonpartisan committee interviews and recommends candidates to Senators Murray and Cantwell to serve as United States District Court judges representing the Western District of Washington on the federal bench 

Senators Murray and Cantwell appointed six new members, representing a historic diversity in background and professional experience, to the Judicial Merit Selection Committee

Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced six new appointments to the Judicial Merit Selection Committee, which reviews candidates for the positions of U.S. District Court judge. The Committee advises Senators Murray and Cantwell on their findings and suggest potential candidates for federal court vacancies before the senators make a final recommendation to President Biden. The six new members of the Judicial Merit Selection Committee joined four returning members.

“I’m very grateful that this incredible group of legal experts has stepped up to serve our state and country as we work to fill longstanding court vacancies as quickly as we can,” said Senator Murray. “I’m committed to nominating highly qualified individuals whose wide-ranging legal experiences and diverse backgrounds will help ensure our judicial branch better reflects our country, and who are committed to justice for all Americans—and I deeply appreciate the selection committee’s help in this important work.”

“If we want diversity on our federal bench, we need a selection committee that reflects that diversity. That’s why I’m so thankful this highly-qualified set of legal leaders have joined our selection committee.” said Senator Cantwell.

The newly announced members of the committee include:

Michele E. Storms is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU of Washington), former Deputy Director of the ACLU of Washington, and previous Assistant Dean for Public Service and executive director of the William H. Gates Public Service Law program at the University of Washington School of Law.  She has also been a legal aid attorney, and a senior lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law. Storms is concerned with equity and justice for all and has dedicated her professional and personal attention to access to justice, preservation of freedom and democracy for all and ensuring that all humxns safely reside in the “circle of human concern.”

“It was a particular honor to advise Senator Murray on potential judges for the Western District of Washington. I am thrilled to have contributed to building a strong, diverse and equitable bench.” said Michele E. Storms, ACLU of Washington.

Rion Ramirez currently serves as the CEO of Port Madison Enterprises (PME), which is the economic development arm of the Suquamish Tribe. Before that Rion served as the General Counsel of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Rion received his B.A. from the University of Washington (1995), his J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law (1998), and is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Band of Indians.

“There are 29 federally recognized sovereign Tribal Governments that have played a vital role in what is now Washington State since time and memorial. It speaks to the experience, dedication and leadership of Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell that they recognize the importance Indian Country plays in their state and I am extremely proud of them for making sure a voice from Indian Country was included in their nonpartisan commission. All federal judges in Washington state will hear matters of considerable importance to Indian Tribes so a commitment to and understanding of federal Indian law should be a prerequisite for judicial qualification in our great state,” said Rion Ramirez.

Mika Kurose Rothman is an associate attorney at MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, and practices civil rights and employment litigation. She was born and raised in Washington state and graduated from New York University and the University of Washington School of Law. Prior to law school, Mika served in the Obama administration as a staff member in the Office of the White House Counsel and the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

“It was an honor to serve with the other members of the Judicial Merit Selection Committee and to help select competent and experienced candidates who represent and are reflective of the diverse communities in Western Washington.” said Mika Kurose Rothman.

Tom Hillier is a native of Washington State who graduated from St. Martin’s University and Gonzaga Law School.  For 32 years he headed the Federal Public Defender program in western Washington, building an office considered a model for indigent defense nationwide.  Presently, he works as senior counsel in the Seattle law firm, Perkins Coie. 

“It has been an honor to serve on the selection committee and to meet the exceptionally well-qualified and respected individuals who have been nominated to sit on our federal district court bench. I am confident all will serve with distinction.” said Tom Hillier.

Sarah Jael Dion is a Principal at Skellenger Bender, P.S., where she leads the firm’s Trusts and Estates Group. She serves on the Board of QLaw, the LGBTQ Bar Association of Washington, and is co-chair of that organization’s Judicial Evaluation Committee. Sarah is a former career law clerk with a longstanding interest in access to justice and improving the judiciary.

“I was so impressed with the integrity of each of the members of this committee. I am grateful to have been able to serve with such an amazing group of people and to be able to assist our Senators with the vetting process,” said Sarah Dion.

Brian Moran served as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington from 2019-2021.  Prior to that, Brian was Counsel at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe from 2013 through 2018.  His lengthy service to the public includes senior positions with the Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the Washington State Attorney General's Office.   

Returning members of the committee include:

Ian Warner is currently a Senior Director of Public Policy at Zillow and has been a member of nonpartisan judicial selection committees for the Western District of Washington since 2015. Prior to Zillow, Warner was a member of the Monitoring Team overseeing the City of Seattle’s policing reforms ordered under a federal consent decree, and has also served in the Seattle Mayor’s Office as Legal Counsel. Warner is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law.

"It's been an honor to serve as co-chair of the selection committee, and I thank the Senators for their leadership and the opportunity to serve. It’s been inspiring to hear from so many incredibly talented lawyers about their desire to serve the Western District. I am proud of the nonpartisan process we've continued and the diversity of the committee's recommendations." said Ian Warner.

Rob McKenna, Co-Chair of the Judicial Merit Selection Committee, served as Washington’s Attorney General from 2005-2013, including a year as President of the National Association of Attorneys General. He has been a member of the Committee since 2015, and is a partner in the Seattle office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

“It was an honor to co-chair the Judicial Merit Selection Committee and serve with the other volunteers, who worked extremely hard on the selection process. Our nonpartisan group reached consensus on a list of outstanding judicial candidates who were selected from a large field of strong applicants,” said Rob McKenna.

John Wolfe has resided in Washington State since 1961 and has practiced law in Seattle since 1978.  He has served on each of the nonpartisan judicial selection committees for the Western District of Washington since 2002.  John is committed to identifying diverse candidates for service on the federal bench who are committed to civil rights and the rule of law, and who throughout their careers have demonstrated an ability to be respectful to all litigants and counsel who might appear before them.

“I very much appreciate the confidence and trust Senators Murray and Cantwell have in me as demonstrated by their willingness to appoint me to serve on this very important Committee. I look forward to serving them again in this or any other capacity,” said John Wolfe.

Chach Duarte White is an attorney with Legal Counsel for Youth and Children where she works with homeless youth, immigrant youth and youth in the foster care system. She is a past president of the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington and the current president of the Judicial Institute. She is passionate about serving underserved communities and creating systemic change that impacts all communities, but especially those that are marginalized.

“Thank you to Senator Murray for allowing me to be on such an important committee and serving with such accomplished and thoughtful people. It has been my honor to help move the bench in a direction that more aptly reflects our communities. It was a privilege to work on a committee whose impact will outlive my professional career,” said Chach Duarte White.

There are 11 U.S. District Court judgeships in Washington, with 7 judgeships in the Western District and 4 in the Eastern District. Washington state has five district court vacancies in the Western District currently and one in the Eastern District. The Western District is one of the only districts in the country that has had this many vacancies for an extended period of time – the first vacancy arose nearly 7 years ago, and the others followed quickly after that. The Western District includes the Seattle and Tacoma courthouses. As a result of these vacancies, criminal defendants in particular have been faced with striking delays in their cases even before the pandemic. 

The newly announced members of the judicial merit selection committee bring new perspective as the committee provides candidates who have been historically underrepresented on the federal bench to Senators Murray and Cantwell  – from public defenders to civil rights and legal aid attorneys, and others – whose diverse backgrounds will better represent all Americans. In December, President Biden shared his goal of nominating professionally diverse candidates to our federal courts in a letter to Democratic Senators.

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