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The Year Ahead | Newsmakers, storylines to watch in 2013

By CECILIA GARZA
Bainbridge Island Review Staff Writer
January 5, 2013 · 11:31 AM
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Bainbridge Island resident Sheryl Gordon McCloud will assume the Position 9 seat on the Washington Supreme Court starting Jan. 14. / Photo courtesy of Sheryl Gordon McCloud

Constitutional rights are what first drove Sheryl Gordon McCloud to pursue law as a young woman during the ’70s.

So when Washington Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers announced he would be retiring at the end of 2012, it seemed like the logical next step for her to announce she would be running to take over his seat.

McCloud has been doing appellate work for more than 24 years and in doing so, she has handled cases before the high court for much of her career. But starting Jan. 14, she will be taking a seat on the other side of the bench as a state Supreme Court justice.

“It’s a change from being an advocate to hearing both sides equally,” McCloud said.

On the Supreme Court, McCloud will be hearing cases and appellate cases that question the U.S. Constitution and federal laws.

As a lawyer who first served as a public defender and now works from her own Seattle-based law firm, McCloud has raised issues from privacy rights and women’s rights to workplace rights and the First Amendment. It is protecting the most basic of individual rights and upholding the Constitution that she looks forward to the most by becoming a state Supreme Court justice.

“I never thought of running a campaign because I never saw myself as a politician,” says McCloud.

Instead, McCloud had always envisioned herself getting appointed as a judge.

But it was this mentality against political gain and respect toward the constitutional rights of the people that she thinks won her the Position 9 seat.

McCloud first started nurturing a passion for law when she attended high school in Queens, New York City at Springfield Gardens High School. From 1968 to 1972, McCloud not only participated in demonstrations against the Vietnam War but took a stance to support women’s rights on her school campus. She and her peers fought for the right to wear pants at school by boycotting skirts during the winter.

“I know it doesn’t seem like an issue now,” McCloud says of that student movement. “But it was cold. It gets below 20 degrees during the winter in New York City.”

She also helped push for sex education to be a requirement for freshmen students, when before public schools made students wait until their senior year. The fact was, pregnancy-related dropouts were a problem before students hit their senior year, she said.

McCloud took this attitude into college where she graduated with honors at the State University of New York at Buffalo. And after a stint at the public defender’s office as a legal secretary, she went on to the University of Southern California’s School of Law where she graduated in the top 2 percent of her class.

Just a couple years after graduating from law school, McCloud moved to Bainbridge Island, where she has lived since 1986.

In the almost 30 years that McCloud has been a lawyer, she has won several cases involving the state of Washington and the U.S. Constitution, including, she recalls, a “landmark case” about 12 years ago where she upheld the First Amendment. In this criminal case, she guaranteed an open court to the press and public where the judge at the time wanted to keep a closed courtroom.

“That’s the job of the court [to uphold the Constitution],” McCloud says. “Even if it’s unpopular.”

McCloud is in the process of wrapping up her private practice by referring out all of her remaining cases to a few of her most trusted colleagues. In the meantime, Chambers will remain in his Position 9 seat for the cases he is still in the process of hearing as is the traditional practice of Supreme Court justices transitioning out.

McCloud noted that it’s going to be a shift from that very social aspect of being able to go to colleagues for advice to not being able to discuss the court, and also from having mainly criminal justice cases to everything. She said that the biggest change is going from being on her own to becoming part of a larger organization. But it’s a shift that won’t go without help.

“Every single one of the justices on the high court has been welcoming and giving me advice, from the robes I’ll be wearing to how to handle the work flow,” McCloud said.

“I think I got fitted for the world’s shortest robes,” she adds. “I’m 4’10”.”

Other newsmakers, storylines to watch

City Manager

Doug Schulze started as the city’s manager in November, and he certainly hasn’t been at a loss for things to do. He comes to the city with a council keen on revisiting water utility issues, an empty seat for the police chief, and a vacant city attorney’s post, just to name a few.

Schulze came to the city with immediate aims to address the city’s police department in the wake of Chief Jon Fehlman’s exit. So far, he has taken steps to engage the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to perform a study on the police department, a step he has said he wants finished before filling the chief’s job.

The decisions on these matters and more could prove to shape Bainbridge Island not only for the coming year, but the many years to follow.

Police Chief

Bainbridge Island was without a police chief for nearly five months before Jon Fehlman stepped down in September.

The position has yet to be filled. The department keeps moving forward, though shadowed by a poor public image and unresolved union-management issues. There’s also the matter of a new contract between the city and its police union.

City Manager Doug Schulze has said that finding a new police chief is among the tasks he will take on in the coming year.

Water utility

Several city council members campaigned in 2011 with sharp criticisms of the city’s water utility. Councilman Steve Bonkowski has been most vocal about revisiting the issue of divesting the utility, or handing off its management to another entity, over the past year. But the city manager search and other issues have taken precedence.

It is possible that the once new council members will spend their second year on the dais making their move on the city’s water utility.

Art museum

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art will open in June.

An art piece of its own, the museum will be the first building in Washington State to garner LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) Gold status, a distinction that required  the building’s architect to incorporate geothermal heating, solar panels and recycled materials. The museum will regularly display traveling art exhibits as well as more permanent fixtures and promote educational opportunities for the community.

City council election

Three seats will be up for grabs in 2013. Councilman Bob Scales and Councilwomen Kirsten Hytopoulos and Debbi Lester, from the north, south and central wards respectively, will have the option of running for their seats once again or stepping down.

The last election caused a shift in influence on the dais, and the next round could also abruptly change the direction of the city.

Review writer Richard D. Oxley contributed to this report.

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