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Stability is valued in the courts. The rule of law should win out, and the people deciding how that should operate ought to do so consistently.  Parties and their lawyers would like to have some measure of predictability when participating—willingly or not—in the criminal or civil justice systems.  But the world has a tendency to go round, and with that comes change. Changes can be exciting and signal a new chapter of life, history or, otherwise, and I suspect that is true for many of the recent changes to the local Superior Court Bench.

It began slowly, in early 2019.  Longtime Judge, Hon. James Rulli retired, and then-Commissioner Hon. Jennifer Snider replaced him in May, 2019.  Her dear friend and colleague, Commissioner Dayann Liebmann was the keynote speaker.

To replace Judge Snider, the Clark County Superior Court Judges put their heads together and reviewed a slate of worthy applicants.  Ultimately, they deservedly appointed local attorney Stefanie Ellis as our newest Commissioner.

The 2019 changes hardly had time to settle before the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted business as usual.  Tragically, Commissioner Dayann Liebmann passed away in September, 2020.  As the local community mourned, it signaled what would become a series of changes.

The Washington legislature added a new judge position to the Clark County Superior Court, and there were suddenly two vacancies to fill.  Governor Inslee appointed the Chief Civil Deputy of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Emily Sheldrick, to fill the new position.  At virtually the same time, the Clark County bench collectively appointed local attorney Jill Sasser to fill the open Commissioner’s seat.

One last shakeup was in order.  Hon. Rich Melnick, who had been Clark County’s lone voice on the Court of Appeals, retired at the end of over forty years in law. Did I mention he’s my dad? And no, as far as we know, we are not related to Dr. Alan Melnick of Clark County Public Health.

With the vacancy in the Court of Appeals, Gov. Inslee chose Hon. Bernard Veljacic to fill it, just as he did seven years ago when my dad vacated his seat on our Superior Court bench.  Last (for now, anyway), and certainly not least, Gov. Inslee appointed the Chief Criminal Deputy to fill Judge Veljacic’s spot.

To recap, in under two years, Clark County has had three new Judges appointed, two new Commissioners, and one new Judge on the Court of Appeals.  As an aside, the Prosecutor’s office had to replace its Chief Criminal Deputy and its Chief Civil Deputy, too.

So, on behalf of Schauermann Thayer, I’d like to congratulate the recent appointees to the Clark County bench, thank those that have retired and moved on, and take a moment to remember the departed Commissioner Liebmann.  Change comes in all forms. This recent wave of changes should signal stability in the bench for years to come, with worthy and talented legal professionals making the decisions on the rule of law.

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About the Author

Benjamin P. Melnick

Ben Melnick joined the firm in 2018. He graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor's degree in 2010, and went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from Gonzaga University School of Law. In 2016, he was named as the Clark County Bar Association's Rising Star. His practice focuses on personal injury, auto accidents, biking accidents, wrongful death, and insurance disputes. Outside work, Ben likes spend time with his wife outdoors—mostly running, hiking, and skiing—and playing soccer.

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