Feb. 2022 > Inbox


We welcome letters to the editor on issues presented in the magazine. Email letters to wabarnews@wsba.org.

Pasco and the Rest of Us Are Better Today

I found George Critchlow’s story of racism in Pasco in a 1976 jury verdict finding his clients to have been discriminated against but awarding no damages [“The Case That Stuck With Me,” November 2021 Bar News] to be another white apologist’s patronizing mea culpa at the altar of racial equality in its attempt to justify critical race theory as it asserts that vestiges of white supremacy, racism, racial discrimination, and injustice not only remain firmly rooted in our society but “may, in fact, be ascendant.” His version of history leaves out much of the story and disserves the young lawyers he says he wants to motivate at the same time it denigrates Pasco’s past and the progress it, its sister cities, and our society have made.

After arriving in Pasco in 1978 to be its city attorney, I met Ed and George Critchlow and I admired and liked them both for their legal acumen and their personal affability. Some attorneys in the Tri-Cities of Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick asked me why I came to Pasco given its record of discrimination and being the poorest of the three cities. I found these inquiries bemusing and the product of a certain hubris that is reflected in Critchlow’s piece as well.

I had grown up in Spokane, and I recalled the all-white Richland and Kennewick basketball teams that came to play against teams in my town as well as the Pasco team that always had more than one Black player, so it had not occurred to me that Pasco would be the candidate for the leader of discrimination in the Tri-Cities. I had grown up in East Spokane where most of its Black community resided alongside its Japanese Americans, my Italian American brethren, and a generally lower-income mix of various Caucasian ethnicities whose specific identities never occurred to us as we played and scuffled together. Racial discrimination was not unknown to us, but we also knew it to be much more pronounced in the Tri-Cities.

The reasons for this difference could be attributed to any number of things, but one likely reason was not apparent in the history recounted in Critchlow’s article. Although racial issues surely existed previously, they became more pronounced when the U.S. government under the Roosevelt and Truman administrations began the Hanford project that built the plutonium reactors along the Columbia River. The construction and continued operation of these reactors brought a large influx of people to the entire area, including Black people, from many parts of the U.S. The project was located several miles north of Kennewick and adjacent to a small town, Richland, that became a government town. The government did not allow Black people to live in Richland for many years. And, as Critchlow so aptly pointed out, Kennewick’s unwritten “Sundown Law” kept Black people from living there. 

The trial [Critchlow] described in the article was over before I arrived. The irony is that a lawyer who [I believed to be] a staunch supporter of the two administrations that de jure forbade Black people from living in the government town their administrations owned, Richland, and his lawyer son, both of whom lived and practiced law in Kennewick, a city that de facto forbade Black people to stay in that city after dark, prevailed in a discrimination lawsuit in Pasco, a city across the Columbia River—a lawsuit that could not have been brought in Richland or Kennewick because neither city had the requisite Black plaintiff living in it. At least there was a semblance of justice in Pasco, when there could be none in Kennewick or Richland.

All these cities and all our society have changed and grown incredibly more tolerant in the intervening years despite Critchlow’s attempt to paint a bleak picture of us all. Pasco was the best of the three at the time, and it grew to be the most tolerant the fastest despite the disappointing verdict that could only be had there due to it being better than its sister cities.

Dennis DeFelice, Sacramento, CA

Letters Policy Too Restrictive

If Nancy Whitten was disappointed to find no letters to the editor in the October 2021 issue of Bar News [“Inbox,” Bar News, December/January 2022], we have only to review the Bar News letters policy to find out why. This policy states that letters to Bar News “must respond to content presented in the magazine.”

But what about letters that do not respond to content presented in the magazine? For example, if the state Legislature passes a bill which is not addressed in Bar News, the WSBA could refuse to print a letter about the bill, or if the state Supreme Court issues an opinion which is not addressed in Bar News, the WSBA could refuse to print a letter about the opinion.

This restrictive clamp-down policy may explain why there are often so few letters appearing in Bar News. Letters of great pith and moment can be denied publication if they do not relate to content already appearing in the magazine.

Although General Rule 12.2 and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), may restrict the WSBA as an organization from taking certain political stands, the individual lawyer, representing himself or herself, is still free to write a letter on any political or legal topic.

And who owns Bar News anyway? It is owned by the member lawyers of the WSBA. They should be able to submit and have printed a letter on any legal topic that they wish to discuss. Censorship can appear in many forms, in this case, under the guise of a restrictive letters policy.

Patricia M. Michl, Ellensburg 

From the Bench, Zoom Hearings Look Good

Zoom and telephone hearings will never adequately replace all types of in-person court hearings, but Chris Van Vechten’s criticism of virtual hearings is overly broad [Inbox, “Just Phoning It In,” November 2021 Bar News]. From my view on the bankruptcy bench, the use of Zoom and telephone hearings can promote access to justice. Physical presence in a courtroom may be beneficial for certain criminal cases, proceedings involving significant personal injuries, and cases that rest solely on witness credibility, but for many other matters, the remote processes we learned to use during the pandemic improve the justice system.

In my bankruptcy court, where many debtors live over 100 miles from the courthouse and cannot skip a day of work, Zoom or telephone hearings provide people with the opportunity to have their day in court. For example, if a debtor cannot travel to court to dispute a creditor’s $2,000 claim—an amount that may seem insignificant to many Washingtonians—that claim can result in the garnishment of a bread-winner’s wages and prevent her from paying rent. 

Also, Zoom has been a useful tool in complex commercial cases brought before me where the attorneys and parties are from all over the world. In these cases, where disputes can be resolved as a matter of law, it does not make sense for the attorneys and their clients to pay thousands of dollars for a trip to Spokane for oral arguments that may last only a few hours. By efficiently conducting hearings via Zoom, where appropriate, all parties save money, and we increase the amount of funds available for legitimate claims.

In short, remote hearings can be helpful, efficient, and increase many individuals’ access to justice. Let’s learn from our pandemic experiences and use Zoom and telephone hearings where appropriate.

Hon. Frederick P. Corbit, United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Washington

Letters to the editor published in Bar News must respond to content presented in the magazine and also comply with Washington General Rule 12.2 and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990).* Bar News may limit the number of letters published based on available space in a particular issue and, if many letters are received in response to a specific piece in the magazine, may select letters that provide differing viewpoints to publish. Bar News does not publish anonymous letters or more than one letter from the same contributor per issue. All letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, civility, and grammatical accuracy.
*GR 12.2(c) states that the WSBA is not authorized to “(1) Take positions on issues concerning the politics or social positions of foreign nations; (2) Take positions on political or social issues which do not relate to or affect the practice of law or the administration of justice; or (3) Support or oppose, in an election, candidates for public office.” In Keller v. State Bar of California, the Court ruled that a bar association may not use mandatory member fees to support political or ideological activities that are not reasonably related to the regulation of the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.