Retired Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris smiles as she speaks to a large crowd during the swearing-in of her replacement on the bench, Judge Whitney M. Rivera, on Thursday, May 9, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Retired Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris smiles as she speaks to a large crowd during the swearing-in of her replacement on the bench, Judge Whitney M. Rivera, on Thursday, May 9, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

One of state’s most senior judges retires from Snohomish County bench

“When I was interviewed, it was like, ‘Do you think you can work up here with all the men?’” Judge Anita Farris recalled.

EVERETT — After decades on the Snohomish County Superior Court bench, Judge Anita Farris is packing up her chambers.

Last month, Farris retired as she marked the 30th anniversary of her appointment, making her the second-most senior judge in the state, she told The Daily Herald. The milestone comes at the same time her daughter prepares to graduate from Harvard Law School.

Farris is ready for something new. But she wouldn’t be leaving if she didn’t feel the bench was in good hands.

“I really feel at peace with where our court is right now,” said Farris, 68. “We’ve gotten six new judges in the last five years, and they’ve all been great.”

Farris’ former law clerk Whitney Rivera, an Edmonds Municipal Court judge and the first appointee of Pacific Islander descent, was sworn into Farris’ position Thursday. Both are former defense attorneys.

“She would take all the most interesting legal issues and give them to me,” Rivera said last month. “She really helped me understand what it would take to be a successful attorney and help try to give me the tools for that.”

It had been a bit of a hectic last week at the county courthouse, Farris said. When a judge leaves the bench, the rotation of chambers works like musical chairs. Her office will go to the next-most senior judge, Bruce Weiss, who assumed the bench in 2007.

Farris graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 1981. The same year, she became the first woman to serve as a law clerk in Snohomish County, for former Superior Court Judge Gerald Knight. The bench was made up of eight white men at the time, Farris said.

“When I was interviewed, it was like, ‘Do you think you can work up here with all the men?’” Farris recalled.

A year later, she received her license to practice as an attorney. She served in the Snohomish County Public Defender Association for five years before opening her own Everett law firm in 1988.

Appointed in 1994, Farris was only the second woman to join the county’s bench.

“I never aspired to be judge — never even in a million years crossed my mind,” Farris said. “There were no women on the bench, not even on TV or anything. So it never occurred to me.”

The former public defender said she liked being an advocate for people.

“You’re fighting for your side, you’re trying to do what’s best for your client,” Farris said. “But being a judge was different because you’re trying to actually figure out, you know, what is the truth? What is the just thing to do? And although every side thinks that should be obvious … it’s not always a very clear issue.”

Farris oversaw thousands of cases, including some that touched on national politics: gun control, police brutality and voter machines.

But looking back on her career, Farris said the hardest cases for her have always involved children.

In 2004, she sentenced a Marysville teenager to 27 years for beating and stabbing another teen to death, believing he had raped a mutual friend. This month, she said the case “haunted (her) for years,” especially since she had young children at the time.

“Anytime you see things with kids, you can’t help it as a judge sort of thinking, you know, how would you feel if you were the parent, either one of these parents?” Farris said.

Years later, she reduced the same man’s sentence to 20 years, with time served counting towards credit. This followed a state Supreme Court ruling that found judges must take age into account in juvenile cases.

Farris’ rulings at times ruffled feathers for others in positions of authority.

In 2015, Farris oversaw a case against Snohomish County’s Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem program, alleging the organization had made multiple ethical violations to keep a young girl away from her parents. Farris cited seven instances in which the child’s appointed guardian lacked candor during testimony, ruling it “uninformed, inconsistent, dishonest, and biased.”

The judge, however, denied the girl’s parents rights to guardianship before removing herself from the case.

In 2021, she authored a 214-page criticism of a deputy prosecutor’s handling of a robbery case, prompting the headline in The Daily Herald: “Excoriated by judge, prosecutor not punished by boss or bar.”

To work any position in the courthouse, Farris said you must have “empathy for all people.”

“Whether you’re a judge or a lawyer, we are dealing with people in crisis. That’s really our job,” Farris said. “But if you become so wrapped up in their process that you become a part of it and you can’t separate out, you’ll go crazy.”

This month in a phone interview, Farris had nothing but praise for her colleagues on the bench in Snohomish County — both those who already have extensive experience and the next generation of judges.

“I’m getting to the age where we just need new blood in there,” Farris said. “And the law needs to keep changing, our court needs to keep changing to keep up with the times. I think we have really good people on there that are going to make really great changes in the future.”

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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