The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington had some of the oldest judicial vacancies in the country coming into the Biden Administration. Three appointments later, the court is now short only two judges. Additionally, with the nomination of Judge John Chun, another vacancy is scheduled to be filled.
John Hyung-Seung Chun received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1991 and his J.D. from Cornell University Law School in 1994. After graduating, Chun clerked for Judge Eugene Wright on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then joined Mundt McGregor LLP as an associate. In 2002, he became a partner at the firm.
In 2005, Chun became a partner at Preston, Gates & Ellis LLP (now K&L Gates). In 2006, he shifted to the Summit Law Group PLLC.
In 2013, Chun was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to the King County Superior Court. In 2018, Inslee elevated Chun to the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division One, where he serves to this day.
History of the Seat
Chun has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. This seat opened on June 28, 2016, when Judge James Robart moved to senior status. On April 14, 2016, President Obama nominated federal prosecutor J. Michael Diaz to replace Robart. Diaz’s nomination stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate and was never confirmed.
Due to a dispute between the Trump Administration and Washington’s U.S. Senators over the Ninth Circuit nomination of Eric Miller, no agreement was reached on district court judges, and the Administration did not nominate anyone to fill this vacancy. President Biden nominated Chun on September 30, 2021.
Before becoming a judge, Chun served in private practice for nearly two decades, during which time he focused on labor and employment litigation. He started at the firm of Mundt McGregory LLP, where he represented American Property Consultants, Ltd. in defending against claims that his client induced the plaintiffs to sign contracts through fraudulent claims. Kamaya Co. v. Am. Property Consultants, Ltd., 959 P.2d 1140 (Wash. App. 1998). Chun argued that the claims should be arbitrated under the contract’s arbitration clause, which the Court of Appeals agreed with. Id. at 1142.
Among other matters he has handled, Chun was hired by the City of Edmonds to investigate if any state or federal antidiscrimination laws were violated when Finance Director Lorenzo Hines left. Edmonds Beacon Staff, Finance Director Resigns; Cites City Council Conflict, Disrespect, Edmonds Beacon, Jan. 16, 2014. Chun concluded that there was no violation of law. See id. Chun also argued before the Washington Supreme Court against a wrongful termination in violation of public policy claim brought by a police officer. Piel v. City of Federal Way, 306 P.3d 879 (Wash. 2013). The Washington Supreme Court ruled against him on a 4-3 vote. See id.
Chun has been a judge since 2013, first serving on the King County Superior Court, handling civil, domestic relations, juvenile,and felony criminal cases, as well as appeals from the lower courts of limited jurisdiction, and then serving on the Washington Court of Appeals since 2018.
Among the notable matters he handled on the King County Superior Court, Chun rejected a challenge to the Washington charter school initiative, which the legislature funded with lottery proceeds. See Opinion, Charter School Ruling a Victory for Students, Spokane Spokesman Review, Feb. 26, 2017. Chun ruled that the funding mechanism did not divert funds from public schools. See id. Chun’s ruling was affirmed by the Washington Supreme Court. El Centro de la Raza v. State, 428 P.3d 1143 (Wash. 2018).
In another notable ruling, Chun ordered a Defendant who plead guilty of possession of child pornography to pay restitution to the victim depicted in the images. State v. Velezmoro, 384 P.3d 613 (Wash. App. 2016). The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, finding that Chun did not need to find that the Defendant was the “but-for” cause of the victim’s trauma before ordering restitution. See id. at 617.
One decision that may draw attention is a 2015 ruling that the Washington Department of Corrections could not release the evaluations for level I sexual offenders under a public records request. John Doe G. v. Dep’t of Corr., 391 P.3d 496 (Wash. App. 2017). While the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed his ruling, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding both that the evaluations could be released but also that Chun erred in allowing the plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously. John Doe G. v. Dep’t of Corr., 410 P.3d 1156 (Wash. 2018).
Among other reversals, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed a 2016 grant of summary judgment against a plaintiff who fell while leaving a store, finding that the issue of causation of injury should have been left to the jury. See Mehlert v. Baseball of Seattle, Inc., 404 P.3d 97 (Wash. App. 2017). The Washington Court of Appeals also reversed in favor of Tommie Davis, who Chun sentenced for unlawful possession of a firearm, finding that Chun had improperly used Davis’ convictions for burglary in California to enhance the sentence, ruling that the California burglary statute was not sufficiently similar to the Washington Burglary statute. See id. at 209.
Since 2018, Chun has served on the Washington Court of Appeals, reviewing appeals from superior court rulings. Among the opinions he has authored, Chun agreed that a trial court judge could not admit a defendant into Drug Diversion Court over the objection of the prosecutor, State v. Daniels, 437 P.3d 723 (Wash. App. 2019), and affirmed a trial court for declining to strike an asian juror in a criminal case where the defendant failed to adequately provide race neutral reasons for the strike. State v. Omar, 460 P.3d 225 (Wash. App. 2020).
Earlier this year, Chun notably ruled that a Seattle ordinance barring a person from carrying a “dangerous knife” did not violate the Second Amendment as applied against the Defendant for carrying a sword. See Zaitzeff v. City of Seattle, 484 P.3d 470, 474 (Wash. 2021).
Writings and Statements
As a law student, Chun authored a note discussing developments in product liability law, which governs damages arising from defects in commercial products. John H. Chun, The New Citadel: A Reasonably Designed Products Liability Restatement, 79 Cornell L. Rev. 1654 (September 1994). After discussing various standards of liability adopted by state courts, Chun endorses the risk-utility standard, which attaches liability where a product’s inherent danger outweighs its utility. Id. at 1659.
The Western District of Washington has seen a feast of new judges after years of famine. The Biden Administration’s nominees to this court have all drawn stiff opposition but have nonetheless pushed through with narrow bipartisan majorities. Chun is likely to be no different.