District Court Judge Steven Clough stands in the courtroom at Evergreen Division of Snohomish County District Court in Monroe. Clough has been a judge since 1978, making him the longest-serving elected official in Snohomish County. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

District Court Judge Steven Clough stands in the courtroom at Evergreen Division of Snohomish County District Court in Monroe. Clough has been a judge since 1978, making him the longest-serving elected official in Snohomish County. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

After 42 years, retiring Monroe judge sees cases as puzzles

District Court Judge Steven Clough, 74, is the longest-serving elected official in Snohomish County.

MONROE — The actor Omar Sharif once wrote, “In bridge clubs and in councils of state, the passions are the same.”

So it makes sense that the longest-serving elected official in Snohomish County fell in love with cards as a boy.

District Court Judge Steven Clough, 74, has been on the bench for 42 years in Monroe, overseeing a wide range of cases, from civil disputes to domestic violence to parking tickets.

He said he loves being a judge because each case he encounters is like solving a puzzle — kind of like a card game.

“It’s just problem-solving,” Clough said. “I was a Life Master in bridge by the time I was 25. I like to keep my mind busy.”

When Clough was in grade school, his parents invited other couples to play bridge on Saturday nights. His parents sent the kids to the TV room, “not to be seen or heard.”

Clough sneaked out and watched them play.

“I was attracted to bridge when I was probably in fourth or fifth grade,” he said. “I started reading bridge books on bidding and how to play the game. One night somebody wasn’t feeling well, so I asked my parents if I could fill in for them. It took off from there.”

Clough was born in 1946 in Spokane. His father, a lawyer, moved the family west in 1953. Every morning Clough’s father walked a two-block commute to his private practice in Monroe.

“My dad didn’t talk a lot about the law, but I asked him a lot of questions,” Clough said. “In middle school, I began having thoughts I might want to go to law school.”

Clough graduated from Monroe High School and drove to the eastern edge of the state, where he attended Washington State University. In 1970, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. He attended law school at the University of Idaho, where he earned his law degree in 1972.

He missed the west side of the mountains, so he moved back to Monroe with his family in 1973.

“I grew up in Monroe, and I knew the people,” he said. “I liked the outdoors — the rivers, the mountains.”

Clough began his law career and joined his father’s private practice. As a lawyer, he worked as both a defense attorney and prosecutor.

A few friends encouraged Clough to run for judge in 1978. He won a tight race over the incumbent. Opponents challenged Clough in ’82 and again in ’86. He ran unopposed every four years since.

“When I first ran, I had in my materials that I wasn’t looking to use this as a spring board to go further,” he said. “I wanted to spend my career in the valley.”

Over the years, Clough believes his experience working on both sides of criminal cases gave him an advantage on the bench.

“I can predict, at times, what is going to happen,” he said. “I can understand the lawyers’ points of view. For me, it is very helpful to have that dual background.”

Clough said the District Court staff — whom he considers a team and family — has kept him coming back to work after all these years.

A favorite part of his job is helping people in his court who don’t have an attorney.

“Most people don’t hire a lawyer when they get a traffic ticket. For many of them, it’s their first time in court, and they’re nervous,” Clough said. “I enjoy working with, and helping, the public.”

When Clough isn’t on the bench, he can likely be found at a college football game, cheering on the Washington State Cougars if they are playing.

The Monroe man shuffled to a new pastime: Texas hold ’em Poker. About a decade ago, Clough won first place at a local poker tournament, he said. The organizers paid for his travel, room, board and entry fees to compete at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

State Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Dwyer has been friends with Clough for more than 20 years. Dwyer refuses to play cards with Clough — to protect his wallet.

“He gets paid with a salary,” Dwyer said. “He shouldn’t get paid with any of my money.”

Dwyer, who used to work with Clough as a fellow District Court judge, said he was instantly impressed when he met Clough.

“He obviously became a judge at a young age,” Dwyer said. “He was the only judge at Monroe at the time, so out of necessity, he’s very self reliant. He’s extremely well known and well liked around the state.”

Clough’s term ends in 2022. It will be his last, he said.

“I don’t want to slow down,” he said. “I guess I will have to sooner or later, but I like to stay active.”

For now, the Monroe judge looks forward to his brief commute every morning. He tries to get to the courthouse 15 minutes early to greet his colleagues and sip a cup of coffee.

“It’s become a habit, I think,” he said. “I’m really comfortable here. I’m going to miss it.”

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; edennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen

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