A career in law wasn’t first on his list. As a young man, he studied creative writing at Stanford University, helped run an electrical business, and was a student teacher. Yet Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas made history in the local legal community, becoming the first African American to join the county’s bench.
“He was the first person of color to sit on the Snohomish County Superior Court and he pioneered the way for our bench to become more diverse,” said Judge Bruce Weiss, the court’s presiding judge.
Lucas, 66, announced his upcoming retirement earlier this year. He’ll officially retire Jan. 1. In the only contested county judicial race of 2020, Cassandra Lopez-Shaw defeated Robert Grant to fill Lucas’ seat.
“I think I was most impactful in drug court,” said Lucas, who was first elected to the county bench in 2004 when he defeated incumbent Judge David Hulbert.
After earning his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1986, Lucas spent three years as a deputy prosecutor in King County. From 1990 to 2002, he was Langley’s city attorney, part of that time also as city administrator. With the Snohomish County Superior Court, he served as a judge pro tem from 1999 through 2002. And prior to being elected to the bench, he was an administrative appeals judge for the state Environmental Hearings Office.
During his Superior Court tenure, Lucas spent four years as presiding judge of the Juvenile Offender Drug Court.
“What I learned, kids have been traumatized in myriad ways,” Lucas said in a recent interview. “You see it in drug court. They’re broken down. Kids can actually heal, become stable and productive. That was powerful to me.”
An advocate of the therapeutic court movement, Lucas said “it’s the human side of court, also the positive side.”
“I put a lot of people in prison,” he said. In the end, he believes “the only thing that works with crime is to heal.”
Lucas has spent most of his life in Snohomish County. In 1972 he graduated from Mariner High School. There, he achieved a different kind of first — as the new school’s initial student body president. He’d been his junior high’s president at Olympic View in Mukilteo.
He and his wife, Beth Lucas, have known each other since seventh grade. Married in 1974, they raised four sons, Joel, Jared, Ben and Peter, and are grandparents.
The second of five children, Eric Lucas was born in Spokane, where his family lived until 1966. His father, Moyes Lucas Sr., was an electrician who’d served at Fairchild Air Force Base. Lured to Western Washington by higher pay, the family of seven spent their first months here in a 27-foot trailer before swapping their Spokane house for a home owned by friends in Everett.
Eventually his parents launched their own business, M&M Electric, later called Luke’s M&M Electric. His mother’s name was Murphy Lucas. Still a teenager, Lucas became the company’s vice president, which had him “dealing with the bank and the lawyer,” he said.
His dreams went beyond the family business. An athlete and National Merit Semifinalist at Mariner, he was destined for higher education. At Stanford, he was a creative writing major, in both poetry and prose programs. Scott Turow, later a famed author of legal thrillers, was one of his instructors.
College costs at Stanford led to Lucas’ decision to transfer to the University of Washington. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in elementary education. The teaching program landed him in elementary school classrooms in the Edmonds district. But the early 1980s saw teacher layoffs, Lucas said, and with two children it was time to change career paths.
“My dad’s lawyer took me to lunch. He said, ‘It’s the perfect time to go to law school,’” Lucas recalled.
He was back working for his dad’s company when he got an acceptance letter from Harvard Law School. He thought it was a joke from his wife’s brother. It was no joke. By 1983 he had moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and two boys.
And by 1986, with a law degree from Harvard, the family was back in the Northwest. Lucas got a job as a deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, in the criminal division. From that period, one particular case stands out in his mind. What began as a juvenile burglary case turned out, after a psychological evaluation and much new evidence, to involve a plot to kill a family, Lucas said.
This year, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and law enforcement’s fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky have brought issues of racial injustice to the forefront.
“Systemic racism, I have seen it on all levels, even on the bench,” Lucas said. “It needs attention paid to it in every segment of society.”
Lucas said one reason he and his wife decided not to settle in the Washington, D.C., area, where he had job prospects, was the reaction they encountered from some people there as an interracial couple. Beth Lucas is white.
During a 2016 sentencing, in the case of a young Black man convicted in a 2015 shooting of three men outside a Taco Bell, Lucas raised the issue of racism.
“Our society is racist and there is a double standard against Blacks, particularly Black men. But the idealization of violence is not the proper response to racism,” Lucas said during the sentencing. He sentenced the man to 40 years in prison, yet at the same time said “I believe you are a human being. I believe you can change.”
Looking back, Lucas said “the key to it is healing.”
He also sees trauma as the root of some police brutality. “When someone puts a knee on someone’s neck until they’re crying for their mother, that’s a person who is desensitized,” said Lucas. “That’s the sign of a person who is ill, a person who has no compassion. They’re suffering from some type of trauma.”
Lucas has hope. “I know about trauma, it can be healed,” he said.
The day-to-day work of a judge is behind him, but Lucas plans to stay involved.
With the state Superior Court Judges’ Association, Lucas is part of the Equality and Fairness Committee. He’s been involved with the state Supreme Court’s Gender and Justice Commission, addressing domestic violence issues. Lucas said he’s also creating a therapeutic justice corporation to work on a mission “close to my heart.”
There’s also that long-ago goal — after all, he was a creative writing major. “I write all the time,” said Lucas, the author of several books including the children’s story “The Island Horse.”
The well-being of very young children has been a longtime focus. In dependency court, Lucas saw cases of babies born addicted to drugs. “We need treatment, birth to 3 years old. Children are little time bombs. They have this experience, they’ve seen a lot of trauma,” he said.
Lucas knows prisoners get out. They’re back in the community. “We have to try to heal people. It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “If we can intervene in a person’s life and improve it — do it.”
Weiss, the Superior Court’s presiding judge, said Lucas “leaves behind a legacy of fighting against injustice and inequality.”
“His absence will be deeply felt, and we wish him the best in his retirement years ahead,” Weiss said.
Julie Muhlstein: email@example.com