OKANOGAN – Gov. Chris Gregoire has appointed longtime District Court Judge Chris Culp to be the county’s second superior court judge.
Culp, who has served as district court since 1987, was appointed superior court commissioner in 1991. Since 2002, he has served as superior court judge pro tem.
“Judge Culp’s deep ties with his community and thorough understanding of the law make him an excellent pick for Okanogan County’s Superior Court. I know Chris will continue to do a great job on the bench,” said Gov. Gregoire.
“I am honored with Governor Gregoire’s appointment. It is a tremendous opportunity to serve the residents of Okanogan County and Washington State in this new role,” said Culp. “I appreciate the confidence placed in me by the governor, peers and many supporters. I will do my best to uphold that trust.”
In July the Okanogan County Commissioners passed an ordinance asking the governor to appoint a second judge to the superior court. Culp indicated his desire to be appointed by filling out the lengthy application and being interviewed by four minority bar associations, he said.
“Two said I was exceptionally well qualified, one said I was well qualified and I never heard back from the other one,” Culp said.
The would-be superior court judge then met with the governor’s general council Narda Pierce who prepares the hiring evaluation and makes recommendations to the governor, according to Culp. The governor then decides who she wants to interview.
Culp said he received 77 letters of support, mostly from people in Okanogan County, but also from others around the state.
“I was really proud of the letter Justice Gary Alexander sent on my behalf. I am just grateful for all the letters of support,” Culp said.
The finale came as Culp sat for a 45-minute interview with the governor.
“I was pleased that Peg got to go with me to Olympia. After the interview I was asked to wait in the conference room and then the governor came out to announce I was appointment and I had my wife there with me which made it even more special,” Culp said.
The newly appointed superior court judge expects to officially take the bench on Dec. 1, but last Monday was serving in his capacity as superior court judge pro tem, hearing a jury trial while Superior Court Judge Jack Burchard has been out sick.
“We are fortunate to have Judge Culp appointed to the Okanogan Superior Court,” said Judge Burchard on hearing of his colleague’s appointment. “He is a great judge with many years of experience on the district court bench and I know he will continue to serve with distinction.”
The term of his appointment will be until the 2012 election when Culp says he plans to seek a return to the superior court bench. Superior court judges run on the same years as presidential elections and serve for four-year terms, while district court judges run during the so-called mid-term elections.
“I’m very excited about the challenge and the prospect of serving as superior court judge. I was very happy in district court, my staff here is outstanding and I regret leaving them, but let me stress that I intend to run in 2012 for the four-year term,” he said.
If superior court had remained a one judge court Culp said he would have considered running if the seat ever became open, but not while Judge Burchard was still on the bench.
He said the Okanogan County Commissioners will chose his successor to the district court bench.
While the salary for the position of superior court judge is more than that of the two superior court commissioners that Culp replaces, the new judge’s appointment will actually save the county money and increase access to the justice system at the same time, according to Culp.
The two superior court commissioners, heard cases three days a week, while Culp will work five days a week. Together the court commissioners’ salary was the equivalent of six-tenth’s of that of a superior court judge. However, the county was responsible for the entire bill for these commissioners, while a full-fledge superior court judge’s salary is split 50-50 between the county and the state.
“So not only does the county save one-tenth of a judge’s salary in these days when every dollar counts, they also get a judicial officer for five days a week instead of three,” Culp said. “I commend the county commissioners for really increasing the access to judicial services by having another superior court judge. There will be less waiting and more and quicker justice,” Judge Culp said.
The judge has been married to Peg Callaway for 26 years. She is an attorney with Callaway, Howe and Detro in Omak. The couple have two children – a daughter Ashley Culp, who is in her fourth year of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University and a son, Jason Harrison, who lives in Walla Walla. His parents are the late Howard and Alice Culp. He gives much of the credit for his first election to the bench because of all their support of that first campaign.
Culp graduated from Okanogan High School, earned a bachelors degree from the University of Washington and a law degree from Gonzaga University School of Law.
After four years of work in private practice, Culp was elected to the district court in 1986 and presided over jury trials and cases involving civil matters, protection orders and misdemeanors. In 1991, he was appointed superior court commissioner and heard juvenile dependencies, truancies and paternity matters. Later, his work as commissioner expanded to include all phases of pretrial hearings in felony criminal cases. And in 2001, he began to spend one day a week as a superior court judge pro tem and presided over felony jury trials and evidentiary hearings.
Among his community activities he belongs to the Omak-Okanogan Rotary Club board of directors and is a member of the Tonasket Community Cultural Center. He is also a past board member of the Omak Performing Arts Center and has been a HOSTS reading mentor at Okanogan Elementary for the past two to three years.