EVERETT — Bill Jaquette plans to spend more time on the water.
He rows about three times a week with the Everett Rowing Association and logged about 1,000 miles last year. There will be more time in his boats now that Jaquette, 73, has stepped down as the managing director of the Snohomish County Public Defender Association.
Jaquette held the position since Feb. 6, 1989.
“The association needs someone with more energy and youthfulness,” Jaquette said.
The board of directors recently selected Kathleen Kyle for the position. Jaquette hired Kyle, 41, out of law school 16 years ago. She has been the assistant director since 2008.
Jaquette isn’t ready to leave entirely, though. He plans to work part-time, helping where he can and continuing to mentor lawyers.
“These are my best friends and I’m involved in something really important. I would miss both,” Jaquette said.
Law was not his first career choice. Jaquette earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Missouri. He was a philosophy professor at Southwest Missouri State University for about six years.
He later decided that he wasn’t suited for a career in academics. He wanted more opportunities to affect change. He also wanted to get back to the Pacific Northwest, where he grew up. He went to law school at the University of Washington.
“I still consider myself a philosopher,” Jaquette said.
He worked for the King County Prosecutor’s Office for a couple of years. He spent some time with the now-defunct Eastside Defender Association and also was in private practice for a couple of years.
When he started in Snohomish County there were about 18 lawyers with the nonprofit public defender association. Today, there are about 40 attorneys and 35 support staff. The association contracts with Snohomish County to provide indigent defense. It also has contracts with the state, Skagit County and a few smaller cities for public defense.
“Bill was brought in to right the ship. He instituted a number of important changes and stabilized the office,” said Neal Friedman, the association’s longest-serving public defender.
He’s had his eye on building a professional office, not just a place where people pass through, public defender Natalie Tarantino said.
Jaquette hired Tarantino nearly 20 years ago. During the job interview, she and Jaquette got into a heated argument over whether to have a client testify or not. Tarantino was surprised when Jaquette called two days later to offer her the job.
He has taken chances on other young lawyers over the years. Before he arrived, people often were hired because of their experience. Jaquette wanted to hire enthusiastic attorneys who needed help honing their skills. He has great instincts when it comes to seeing the potential in people, Tarantino said.
“He has built a dedicated group of young lawyers who want to stay in the office. He’s created an atmosphere of team work,” said former Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Ronald Castleberry, who sits on the association’s board of directors.
Meanwhile, Jaquette has gained respect in and out of the courtroom, the retired judge said. He has a good reputation with the county council, executive and the bench, Castleberry added. People know they can trust his word.
“He has a gentlemanly way,” Castleberry said.
Jaquette has taken on some of the association’s higher profile cases, including three clients facing the death penalty.
Jaquette represented James Homer Elledge, who was convicted of the 1998 stabbing and strangulation of Eloise Fitzner, 47, at a Lynnwood church. Elledge requested a death sentence and directed Jaquette not to fight to keep him alive.
Jaquette, a fervent opponent of the death penalty, felt ethically bound to carry out his client’s wishes, even if it meant sending him to death. Others tried to intervene on Elledge’s behalf and Jaquette had no support from the defense bar.
“He was alone on an island, except for those of us in the office,” Tarantino said. “It was torture for him and a painful time.”
Jaquette met with Elledge at Washington State Penitentiary in 2001 shortly before he was executed. The public defender sat in the front row, near Elledge’s head as the chemicals were injected into the 58-year-old man’s body.
“It was difficult to get involved as someone who believes the death penalty is stupid,” Jaquette said.
His background in philosophy has been endlessly helpful, Tarantino said. He’s approached things from a global perspective which can be hard to see when you’re in the trenches, she said.
Their former boss didn’t micromanage them, the lawyers said. He assumes that they’re doing the work that needs to be done to represent their clients in the best possible way.
“He lets them do their work and gets out of the way,” public defender Cassie Trueblood said. “He always has your back.”
Jaquette also emphasized to the lawyers how important it is to have a life away from work and to take care of themselves.
He has found that balance on the water. Jaquette expects he’ll spend his extra time boating or rowing. Over the years he’s accumulated a number of kayaks and sculls.
The lawyers in his office are grateful Jaquette isn’t leaving. He’ll still be there, advocating for justice and change.
“He’s had a great career to look back on and be proud of what he has accomplished,” Castleberry said.