District Court faces changing of the guard

Kitsap County District Court Judge W. Daniel Phillips retired last week, after receiving accolades from staff and colleagues at a commemoration Friday afternoon in Port Orchard.

“He has had such an incredible impact, a positive impact,” said Judge James Riehl, who has served on the court with Phillips for 26 years, “not only on the administration of justice but everyone who lives in this county.”

“He had a real ability to pay close attention to testimony,” said District Court Judge Steve Holman. “And he was able to keep up with the changes in the law, which is what makes a good judge.”

Phillips, 64, is the District Court’s longest-serving judge, ascending to the bench in 1981.

While he has served his last day on the bench, his term does not expire until March 1. Until then, the court will hire pro-tem judges to handle Phillips’ cases.

District Court Administrator Maury Baker said that judges get a payout of vacation time at their retirement, and it costs the county the same amount to maintain Phillips’ judge status even if he is no longer present.

Phillips’ replacement is a foregone conclusion. As Kitsap County Chief Deputy Prosecutor, Jeffrey Jahns was the only one to show interest in the position and the application period has expired.

Jahns’ application will be reviewed by the Kitsap County commissioners in a work study meeting on Jan 21, and will be finalized at the Jan. 26 public meeting.

There is a sense of urgency in completing the appointment, since Jahns is scheduled to begin a five-day judicial training in Tacoma on Jan. 25.

All new judges are required to take this course during their first year on the bench.

Jahns has worked with the Prosecutor’s Office for 14 years, and worked as a defense attorney for 13 prior to that.

Being a judge would complete his career circle. And even if he is more or less a shoo-in, he is taking nothing for granted.

“It's a little premature to talk about this,” Jahns said on Friday. “But I am interested in becoming a judge, and I want to follow in Judge Phillips’ footsteps. He has a keen mind and showed how a good judge should act.”

Jahns said Phillips would listen to all sides, paying attention to the defendant.

“He had compassion and always cared about his job,” Jahns said. “He was prompt in court. He was very scholarly. He enjoyed working with people, and it showed. He was an exceptional judge, and the county is going to miss him.”

This was echoed by several of Phillips’ colleagues on Friday, who often characterized him as “a people person.”

After accolades from Riehl, Sheriff Steve Boyer and others, Phillips presented a 10-minute talk that had elements of both a reminiscence and a stand-up comedy routine. He talked about working as a ticket seller for United Airlines during law school, and had to take a pay cut after graduating.

Other Phillips zingers:

• “I have a lot of families. I have my court family, my own personal family, my Rotary family. And the family of the people who appear in court. You get to know them when they come back.

• “There were 93,000 people when we came to Kitsap County in 1971, and 31 attorneys. Now there about 600 attorneys. Half of them live on Bainbridge Island and commute to Seattle.

• “We issue 30,000 traffic tickets in a year. You have an expired license you get a $550 ticket. Grotesque. You drive without a insurance, you get another $550. Grotesque. That adds up to $1,100. You can get a DUI and it only cost you $680.”

Phillips said he plans to travel extensively, and will begin the first out-of-town trip of his retirement this week.

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