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Fired U.S. Attorney highlights Kitsap Law Day celebration

Former U.S. Attorney John McKay (right) made two addresses commemorating Law Day in Kitsap County on Friday. Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer looks on.  - Charlie Bermant
Former U.S. Attorney John McKay (right) made two addresses commemorating Law Day in Kitsap County on Friday. Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer looks on.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

Kitsap County commemorated its 40th annual Law Day on Friday, with an address by John McKay, one of the eight former U.S. attorneys fired by former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2006 for reasons McKay believes were political.

“I often tell my students that they should aspire to be fired,” said McKay, now a professor at Seattle University. “At some times it is difficult to do the right thing. Sometimes there is an easy path, but to go down that path is the wrong thing to do. The most important thing is to be able to look yourself in the mirror and know that you did the right thing and that you followed the Rule of Law.”

The Rule of Law, in its simplest terms, states that the law applies equally to all citizens, from the most powerful to the least fortunate.

McKay, 51, was one of eight U.S. attorneys who dismissed for performance-related issues by the U.S. Justice Department. He believes Gonzales mischaracterized the circumstances surrounding his dismissal.

“My staying silent at this point made me part of the lie,” he said. “Against all of my instincts and desires, I spoke out. These people were using the law for political gain, which is not how it was intended. If I did not speak out they would have gotten away with it.”

McKay believes his dismissal was retribution for his failure to convene a federal grand jury to investigate allegations of voter fraud during the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial race between Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi.

“The Rule of Law means that laws were written to protect the powerless,” McKay said, “not to protect those who have the power. No matter who you are, you are subject to the laws, and the Constitution, which are the laws that are being recognized on this special day.

“The Rule of Law is winning,” McKay said. “And it’s winning because we are going to stand up and support it and say what is right. Law Day is a day worth celebrating. We are a great country, but it’s not because of our military might, It’s not because we are a nation of incredible industry. It is because we are a nation that is based upon a wonderful idea. And idea of freedom and an idea that the Rule of Law applies to everyone and that’s what makes us a great country.

Law Day was first established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Since then it has provided the impetus for local commemorations across the country. This year’s Kitsap County ceremony recognized several local legal luminaries, in their roles in supporting the Rule of Law.

“Presiding“ over the ceremony was a panel that included justices from the Court of Appeals, Washington State Supreme Court, Bremerton Municipal Court, Kitsap County District Court and all but one member of the Kitsap County Superior Court (Judge Jay Roof missed the ceremony, as he was presiding over the regularly scheduled Drug Court).

Court of Appeals Judge Robin Hunt said that Law Day has been a special event in Kitsap County because it focuses public attention on the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities we all enjoy as citizens of the United States and because the Kitsap Bar and judiciary, the military, the schools and other community members come together to celebrate these freedoms in a special court session.

She added that this year’s ceremony was “bittersweet” due to the recent death of Bremerton Attorney Ron Anderson, who has helped to organize past Kitsap County Law Day observances.

Those recognized included Lt. Eric Pederson, JAGC, USN, as the outstanding legal professional; Central Kitsap High School students Heaven Jordan, Sean Haley Tara Patton and Keala Clement, along with instructor Robert Smithrud, for outstanding presentations in the Street Law Project Competition and Kitsap Legal Services President Jennifer Brugger.

The winners of the Junior and Senior High School Law Day essay contest were recognized, including Josh deLacy, South Kitsap; Miles Bedinger, Explorer Acadamy; Rebecca Campbell, Olympic High School; Kendall Mason Karcher, Woodward Middle School; Jameson Bruce, Kingston Middle School; and, Cameo Hlebasko, Woodward Middle School.

The Kitsap County Bar Merrill Wallace Scholarship was awarded to Hanady K. Nakkour, Central Kitsap, and Cory Davis, South Kitsap.

Cedar Heights Junior High School teacher Terry Messing was given the Liberty Bell Award, which recognizes a non-lawyer who has promoted legal awareness in the community.

SKHS student Shatara Tiller received the Ron Anderson Memorial Award for developing programs that raise awareness about drunk driving and domestic violence.

During the Law Day ceremony McKay stressed that no one — the president, attorney general or any other official — is above the law. Later in the day, during a luncheon meeting of the Kitsap Bar Association, he expanded his remarks in more specific ways, speaking out against the torture be believes has been sanctioned by the federal government while stating that attorneys who are true to the Rule of Law will guide the country through the next constitutional crisis.

“If we don‘t strengthen our legal system now, the next time we area attacked it will be a tsunami,” he said. “People will demand security and will place power in the hands of those who don’t need to be directly responsive to the Constitution. There will be a lot of things happening that will not look legal. We will see the suspension of habeas corpus. We will see things that as lawyers we won’t like and as Americans we won’t like ourselves very much.

“So it is important to have lawyers who act with integrity every day and have judges that we honor for their independence and fealty to the Constitution,” he said. “Our rights can be taken away from us. We are seeing this at Guantanamo Bay, but we are also seeing people stand up and say ‘No, this is not acceptable.’ When we are attacked again, our values will be challenged. And it will be lawyers who will stand up when others won’t and will talk about how we must honor our Constitution.”

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