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Helping others to navigate the legal landscape

Kitsap County Clerk Dave Peterson taught in the Central Kitsap School District before coming to the courthouse. - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
Kitsap County Clerk Dave Peterson taught in the Central Kitsap School District before coming to the courthouse.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

There are two things that really bother Dave Peterson — bottled water and cell phones.

“We spend $6 billion a year on bottled water,” he said, pulling that particular statistic out of thin air, and acknowledging that it many not be true. “Imagine what we could buy with $6 billion. I carry a cell phone, but I only use it once or twice a day. It’s amazing to see people who do nothing but talk into their cell phones. What did we do before?”

Before cell phones, Peterson worked as a teacher and administrator in the Central Kitsap School District for 30 years. Following his “retirement,” he was appointed as Kitsap County Clerk, an office to which he has subsequently been elected twice.

In this role, Peterson serves as the administrative and financial officer of the Kitsap County Superior Court, managing the fines and penalties administered by the justice system.

Even as he said he has never read a file kept by the Clerk’s Office, he seeks to move its myriad processes along and add a human element to these dry, statistical chores.

“We perform a public service by helping people deal with various legal issues,” he said. “A lot of them need to be guided through domestic violence issues, protection orders and things of that type. And we help people who don’t have the resources to get an attorney to understand the mystery of the courts, and make sure their paperwork is completed correctly.”

If the paperwork is not complete, Peterson said, the judge will throw it out without comment. The person must then do everything over and go to the end of the line, which can add a level of frustration to an already difficult process.

Peterson, 65, stresses that the legal system hardly resembles its television counterpart due to the volume of paperwork, but he uses a comparison that more than half of his 44 employees would certainly miss: “Filing papers is a big part of the process,” he said. “But you don’t see people doing a lot of paperwork on ‘Perry Mason.’”

Peterson, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of parliamentary procedure, is the one who guides county meetings toward the proper process. And he often comes up with questions that no one else thinks of — or has the guts to ask.

For instance, during discussions about the proposed Kitsap County NASCAR track, he did the math and determined that 80,000 visitors would need a lot more porta-potties than track sponsors had estimated.

Peterson graduated from South Kitsap High School and attended the University of Washington before moving to Southern California to teach seventh grade and race motorcycles on weekends.

After living in California during times of student unrest and political upheaval, he returned to Kitsap in 1969. He worked for the school district during times of change, guiding the introduction of computers and technology to the district.

In contrast to one prevailing opinion, he does not feel the education system has declined in quality.

“Teachers are required to do so much these days,” he said. “But in order for education to succeed, there must be an equal commitment between students, teachers and parents. If everyone isn’t on board, it won’t work.

“But things have changed,” Peterson said. “When I went to school and a teacher was mad at you, your parents would immediately take their side. Today, if a teacher says a student is doing something wrong, the parent disagrees, saying the kid would never do such a thing.”?

Peterson, a Democrat, was involved in party politics long before he sought elected office. He worked with the party for several years before mounting an unsuccessful effort for the state Legislature.

It was almost 20 years before he tried again.

In the meantime, his ability to run a meeting efficiently and fill empty conversational spaces with appropriate wisecracks earned him a position as toastmaster general for local events.

He MC’d retirement the celebrations for North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen and Auditor Karen Flynn when they left their jobs, and is the first one called when an event needs a amusing yet generally non-offensive personality to manage a program.

And its good to know that Peterson’s filters are working. After Flynn’s event, he divulged the joke that he did not tell:

“This guy goes into a doctor’s office and says ‘I think I’m a moth.’ The doctor said that he is a general practitioner, and that the guy should see a psychiatrist. So the guy said he was on his way to see a psychiatrist ‘but I saw your light.’”

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