Jobs, genetics won’t stop her from climbing

  • Sat Jan 28th, 2012 9:43pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

On her last day as a public defender, Marybeth Dingledy didn’t talk about court cases.

She talked about an 18,491-foot volcano in Mexico. She talked about seeing a climbing partner fall 100 feet during a descent of Mount Baker, the first of many peaks Dingledy has scaled.

She talked about being dealt bad genetic cards, but taking charge of her health as much as possible.

Oh, and there’s that new job. She talked about that, too.

“I never thought it was my goal,” Dingledy said Friday. “But my dad reminded me at Thanksgiving that I had said, ‘One day I’ll be a judge or a teacher.’ “

After 16 years as an attorney with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association, the 42-year-old Dingledy is scheduled to be sworn in Feb. 7 as the county’s newest Superior Court judge. She was chosen by Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this month to fill the seat held by Judge Ronald Castleberry, who is retiring.

Over coffee Friday, Dingledy said people in Snohomish County’s legal community suggested in recent years that she put her name in the running for the bench. The Superior Court will soon have two new faces. Former Snohomish County Prosecutor Janice Ellis was selected in December to fill the seat held by Judge Kenneth Cowsert, who also retired.

Dingledy said she was struck by “a whole lot of emotions” when she was appointed to the bench. “I was incredibly excited and honored, but also sad to be leaving a great job,” she said.

Because of her judicial duties, Dingledy put a personal goal on hold. This coming summer, she had planned to climb Alaska’s Mount McKinley, also known as Denali. The trip would have taken her away for three weeks.

That wasn’t practical while settling into her judicial role. Also, Dingledy said, she may be in a campaign this summer and fall if someone files for election to her seat on the bench.

Still, she plans a two-day climb of Mount Rainier this summer.

A mountain climber since 2006, Dingledy has raised money for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center through the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer. She climbed Mount Baker in 2006 and Rainier in 2007. In 2008, Dingledy went to Mexico to climb two inactive volcanoes, the 18,491-foot Pico de Orizaba and the smaller Iztaccihuatl.

She traveled to Tanzania in 2009 to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. In 2010, a dangerous turn in the weather kept her group from making it to the top of California’s Mount Shasta. Last summer, Dingledy climbed Mount Olympus on the Olympic Peninsula.

“I’ve raised over $60,000” for the Hutchinson center, she said.

Those fundraising days are over. Dingledy said that as a judge, it isn’t appropriate to raise money, even for a cause as noble as fighting breast cancer. Others are welcome to donate to the effort that remains close to her heart.

For Dingledy, the battle against breast cancer is personal.

In 2003, she learned she inherited an altered BRCA2 gene. That means she has a much higher than average chance of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her father’s mother died of breast cancer, and two of her father’s sisters developed the disease.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a gene on chromosome 13 normally helps suppress cell growth. With a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, there is high risk of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer.

In October, Dingledy did something about it. Doctors had recommended that her ovaries be removed by age 45. On Oct. 26, she underwent a hysterectomy, which is removal of the uterus, and removal of her ovaries.

The surgery, she said, cut her risk of breast cancer in half and greatly reduced her risk of ovarian cancer. In a 2009 Herald interview, Dingledy said that without surgery she would have at least an 80 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 20 percent chance of ovarian cancer.

“On the same day I scheduled the surgery, I signed up to climb Denali,” she said.

She won’t get there this summer, but Dingledy is excited to step up to the Superior Court.

As a public defender, she said, “I’ve become a really good listener.” She feels ready for the next step. Being a judge, she said, requires listening, being respectful and compassionate, figuring out the issues, and “trying to make sure you are doing justice to everybody.”

Denali can wait. Still, Dingledy isn’t about to quit climbing, even as her day job has her wearing a judge’s robes.

She often trains by biking 16 miles to work from her Bothell home, then taking a bus home. “I don’t think any of the other judges take a bike and the bus to work,” she said.

Dingledy hasn’t yet climbed up onto the bench, but she has shown courage and fortitude climbing mountains and standing up to health risks.

“I can’t change my genes, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself,” she said. “There’s plenty to do.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;