Judge John Chun – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

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.

Background

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.

Legal Experience

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.

Jurisprudence

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.

Overall Assessment

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.

Lauren King – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

Native Americans are among the most under-represented groups on the federal judiciary, with only two judges serving in active status. President Biden has now nominated a third, Seattle attorney Lauren King.

Background

Born in 1982, King received a B.A. from the University of Washington in 2004 and a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School in 2008.

After graduating, King worked as an associate at K&L Gates for a year and then at Byrnes Keller Cromwel for two years before joining the Seattle office of Foster Garvey P.C. where she currently serves as a Principal.

History of the Seat

King has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. This seat opened on January 27, 2016, when Judge Robert Lasnik moved to senior status. On April 6, 2016, the Obama Administration nominated Judge Beth Andrus to fill the vacancy, but her nomination was never confirmed by the Republican Senate.

On July 13, 2018, the Trump Administration announced their intention to nominate federal prosecutor Tessa Gorman to the Western District. However, due to a dispute with Washington’s U.S. Senators over the Ninth Circuit nomination of Eric Miller, the Trump Administration chose not to proceed with Gorman’s nomination. President Biden nominated King on May 12, 2021.

Legal Experience

King, a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, has focused her career on Native American law, frequently representing Native American tribes in lawsuits seeking to protect their interests. Most notably, King represented the Quileute tribe in a suit seeking to protect the fishing boundaries designated for the tribe under the 1855 Treaty of Olympia. See Greg Geudel, Lauren King: “Rising Star” Defender of Tribal Rights, Native American Legal Update, May 6, 2016. King was able to get a favorable ruling on the suit from Judge Ricardo Martinez on the Western District of Washington. The decision was subsequently appealed and partially affirmed by a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. See Makah Indian Tribe v. Quileute Indian Tribe, 873 F.3d 1 (9th Cir. 2017).

King has also made a name for herself in litigating related Indian law cases before the Ninth Circuit, including a subproceeding involving the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. Muckleshoot Indian Tribe v. Tulalip Tribes, 944 F.3d 11 (9th Cir. 2019). She also represented the Muscogee Creek Nation in a suit regarding the use of a tract of land in Wetumpka, Alabama. Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Civil Action No. 2:12cv1079-MHT, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47953 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 15, 2021).

Overall Assessment

Given the focus on her experience on Indian law, King is an unusual choice for a federal judicial appointment, and her selection shows a willingness by the Biden Administration to pick unconventional nominees. While King may draw some opposition for her youth, she is nonetheless favored to join the bench and may even be poised for elevation to the Ninth Circuit if a Washington seat was to open.

Judge David Estudillo – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington is the most understaffed court in the country, with only two active judges performing the work of seven.[1]  The court has not seen a new appointment in 14 years, but 2021 looks like the year that the stalemate will break and a new judge will be appointed.  State court judge David Estudillo is hoping to be that judge.

Background

David G. Estudillo was born in 1974 in Sunnyside, Washington, the son of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in the 1960s as part of the Bracero program.[2]  One of ten children, Estudillo worked at the family store before getting a B.A. from the University of Washington in 1996 and a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 1999.  

After graduating, Estudillo began his legal career at the Moses Lake satellite office of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn, & Aylward, P.S.[3]  In 2002, he shifted to Scheer & Zender LLP.  In 2005, Estudillo opened a solo legal practice in Moses Lake, practicing there until 2015.

In 2015, Estudillo was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to the Grant County Superior Court, replacing Judge Evan Sperline and becoming the only Latino superior, district, or municipal court judge in eastern Washington.[4]  He still serves on the bench.

History of the Seat

Estudillo has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.  This seat opened on February 28, 2019, when Judge Ronald Leighton moved to senior status.  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 Estudillo on April 29, 2021.

Legal Experience

Before becoming a judge, Estudillo practiced law in Moses Lake in eastern Washington for sixteen years.  Estudillo started his career in 1999 at Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Aylward P.S.  From 2002 to 2005, Estudillo worked in Scheer & Zehnder LLP, handling insurance defense, insurance coverage, and plaintiff personal injury cases.[5]  Among the matters he handled there, Estudillo successfully persuaded the Court of Appeals of Washington to reverse a grant of summary judgment against a home contractor he was representing.[6]

From 2005 to 2015, Estudillo practiced at Estudillo Law Firm PLLC, where he largely focused on immigration law, representing clients before the Immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and federal courts.  Estudillo also handled insurance defense work as Panel Counsel for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company as well as some general civil litigation.[7]

Jurisprudence

Since his appointment in 2015, Estudillo has served on the Grant County Superior Court in Eastern Washington, handling civil, domestic relations, juvenile,and felony criminal cases, as well as appeals from the lower courts of limited jurisdiction.

Among the notable matters, he has handled, Estudillo presided over the murder trial of Chad Bennett, who charged with murdering his 82-year-old landlady because she was planning to evict him.[8]  During the trial, Estudillo denied defense motions for a mistrial based on the prosecution’s raising of allegedly prejudicial character evidence during the trial.[9]  Estudillo ruled that the defense had opened the door to much of the evidence and that the evidence did not influence the jury verdict.[10]  Estudillo sentenced Bennett to 55 years in prison.[11]

In another notable ruling, Estudillo denied a motion by David Nickels, on trial for first-degree murder, to disqualify the Grant County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him because the elected prosecutor, Garth Dano, had previously represented Nickels.[12]  Estudillo’s ruling was reversed by the Court of Appeals in Washington (and the Washington Supreme Court), ruling that, as a general standard, where an elected prosecutor has a conflict from a prior representation of a defendant, the entire office must recuse.[13]

In other rulings, Estudillo dismissed a suit by Ahmet Hopovac, who argued (after being attacked) that the Department of Corrections had a duty to protect him while he was out on supervision as he, as a convicted felon, could not own a weapon.[14]  Estudillo ruled that the Department of Corrections had no such duty, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.[15]  

Politics and Campaigns

As judges in Washington must periodically run for re-election in order to retain their seats, Estudillo has campaigned for re-election twice (Superior Court judges have four-year terms) in 2016 and 2020, winning both times.

In 2016, Estudillo was challenged by local attorney Nick Wallace, who was the highest rated candidate to be appointed to replace Sperline on the Grant County bench by a Grant County Bar Association survey, but was passed over in favor of Estudillo by Gov. Inslee.[16]  The campaign grew heated, with Estudillo reporting Wallace to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee for alleged misstatements in his campaign ads, and Wallace accusing Estudillo of misrepresenting the Committee’s subsequent opinion.[17]  Later, in a debate, Wallace noted that Grant County Bar Association voters had ranked him above Estudillo before the latter got Inslee’s appointment, noting: “I don’t think Jay Inslee chose the most qualified person and I want to give Grant County voters a choice.”[18]  Estudillo countered the claim that he was chosen for reasons unrelated to his qualifications, noting:

“The fact that I am Latino, the fact that my parents were from Mexico, the fact that I might look a little different than some people, that is not the defining characteristic of whether I am qualified to be a judge…[and] was not the defining qualification that was used to determine whether or not I am eligible to be a Superior Court judge.”[19]

Estudillo ultimately won the election narrowly, and was re-elected comfortably in 2020.

Outside of the judicial context, in 2018, Estudillo attended the Grant County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner/Fundraiser Saturday alongside U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse and other Republican leaders.[20]

Overall Assessment

The under-staffed Western District of Washington is, in many ways, a casualty of the nominations fight between Washington’s U.S. Senators and the Trump Administration.  Had the fight not happened, Estudillo, with ties to the local Republican Party, and fairly conservative rulings, but having been appointed by the Democratic Governor, could have been a consensus candidate that the Administration and Senators could have agreed to.  It is a bit more unusual for a Democratic Administration that seemingly has an unlimited supply of liberal lawyers to choose from to select Estudillo.

Nonetheless, Estudillo has extensive experience with civil and criminal litigation, and, as a longtime immigration practitioner, would bring an unusual perspective to the federal bench, if and when he is confirmed.

[1] Incidentally, both active judges are in their seventies, and have been eligible for senior status for years.

[2] Royal Register Editor & Ted Escobar, Superior Court Judge Earned His Way Through Life, Columbia Basin Herald, Aug. 31, 2015, https://columbiabasinherald.com/news/2015/aug/31/superior-court-judge-earned-his-way-through-2/.

[3] See id.

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] Bort v. Parker, 42 P.3d 980 (Wn. App. 2002).

[7] See id.

[8] Jefferson Robins, Tenant Sentenced to 55 Years in Landlady’s Murder, The Wenatchee World, May 15, 2017.

[9] Richard Byrd, Chad Bennett Denied a Mistrial, Columbia Basin Herald, Apr. 12, 2017.

[10] See id.

[11] See Robins, supra n. 7.

[12] See State v. Nickels, 456 P.3d 795 (Wash. 2020).

[13] See id. at 539-40.

[14] See Hopovac v. Dep’t of Corr., 391 P.3d 570 (Wn. App. 2017).

[15] See id.

[16] Ryan Minnerly, Nick Wallace Wallace Announces Candidacy for Judge Seat, Columbia Basin Herald, Mar. 2, 2016.

[17] See Ryan Minnerly, Judicial Candidates Clash on Campaign Ethics Claims, Columbia Basin Herald, May 15, 2016.

[18] Richard Byrd, Judge Candidates Superior Court Candidates Speak to Packed Room, Columbia Basin Herald, May 19, 2016 (quoting Nick Wallace).

[19] See id.

[20] Richard Byrd, Grant GOP Holds Lincoln Day Dinner/Fundraiser, Columbia Basin Herald, Feb. 12, 2018.

Tana Lin – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington is the most understaffed court in the country, with only two active judges performing the work of seven.  As President Biden seeks to fill those vacancies, he has put forward the nomination of Seattle attorney Tana Lin.

Background

Tana Lin was born on September 16, 1966 in Taiwan, and her family immigrated to the United States when she was three years old.  (Bob Geballe, Finding Her Voice, Washington Super Lawyers Magazine, June 30, 2016, https://www.superlawyers.com/washington/article/finding-her-voice/cd7b5581-bac9-4238-8fd5-0e190eadd313.html.) Lin didn’t speak English until the age of five, only used chopsticks through college, and faced bullying as a child.  Lin received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1988 and a J.D. from New York University Law School in 1991.  

After graduating, Lin worked as a public defender in Washington D.C. for four years before joining the Employment Litigation Division with the U.S. Department of Justice.  In 1999, Lin moved to Chicago to be a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  In 2001, she shifted to Ann Arbor to lead litigation efforts for the Michigan Poverty Law Program.

Since 2004, Lin has been at Keller Rohrback in Seattle.  She has also served on the Board of Directors for the ACLU of Washington since 2016 and as President since 2019.

History of the Seat

Lin has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.  This seat opened on February 6, 2016, when Judge Marsha Pechman moved to senior status.  On April 6, 2016, the Obama Administration nominated Perkins Coie partner Kathleen M. O’Sullivan to fill the vacancy, but her nomination was never confirmed by the Republican Senate.

On July 13, 2018, the Trump Administration announced their intention to renominate O’Sullivan to the Western District.  However, due to a dispute with Washington’s U.S. Senators over the Ninth Circuit nomination of Eric Miller, the Trump Administration chose not to proceed with O’Sullivan’s nomination.  President Biden nominated Lin on April 29, 2021.

Legal Experience

Lin started her legal career as a staff attorney with the Public Defender Service in Washington D.C., representing indigent defendants charged with crimes in the District.  Among the cases she handled there, Lin challenged the sentencing of her 19-year-old client as an adult rather than a juvenile under the D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act.  (Veney v. United States, 681 A.2d 428 (D.C. App. 1996).)  However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision to sentence the defendant as an adult.  

From 1995 to 1999, Lin worked as a litigator at the Department of Justice, where, among other matters, she helped negotiate a settlement agreement with the City of New York seeking to remedy employment discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and women hired to be School Custodians and School Custodian Engineers.  (United States v. N.Y. City Bd. of Educ., 85 F. Supp. 2d 130 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).)  

From 1999 to 2001, Lin was at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she pursued class action suits against Wal-Mart and the Louisiana State Police for employment discrimination.  The suit against the Louisiana State Police involved discrimination against women who sought to apply to be Troopers.  

Since 2004, Lin has worked at the firm of Keller Rohrback in Seattle.  During this time, she has made a name of herself in working with the ACLU in suits against Trump Administration policies.  For example, Lin was part of the legal team challenging the Administration’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries.  (See Martha Bellisle, Judge’s Partial Lifting of Trump Ban Gives Refugees Hope, A.P., Dec. 24, 2017.)  Lin’s tactics during this lawsuit attracted some criticism from conservative blogger Scott Johnson after she sent him a subpoena seeking notes he took at a reception hosted by the Administration.  (See Tim Cushing, Lawyer Deploys Faulty Subpoena Demanding Evidence Preservation, Fails to Impress Lawyer Receiving It, Techdirt, June 30, 2017.)  Johnson, who is a Minneapolis-based attorney, wrote that he intended to fight the subpoena in a blog post.  (Scott W. Johnson, Don’t Subpoena Me, Bro, City Journal,  June 20, 2017, https://www.city-journal.org/html/dont-subpoena-me-bro-15278.html.)  Johnson was ultimately released from the subpoena.  (Scott W. Johnson, Don’t Subpoena Me, Bro: The Sequel, Power Line, Feb. 13, 2020.)

Political Activity

Lin has a limited political history, having donated once to the Congressional campaign of Rep. Pramila Jayapal.  (Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=tana+lin&cycle=&state=&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited May 16, 2021).)

Overall Assessment

Even though she has worked at a law firm for almost two decades, the overarching theme of Lin’s legal career has largely been the representation of legal “underdogs”: criminal defendants; and civil rights plaintiffs.  Her record of strongly liberal legal advocacy, suits against the police, and against the Trump Administration are likely to draw controversy, and Lin will likely attract strong levels of opposition.  Nonetheless, Lin’s path to confirmation will depend on whether she can keep all 50 Democrats behind her nomination.