A Port Angeles High School graduate who worked as a Black Ball Ferry Line dock hand before attending law school has been named by Gov. Jay Inslee to replace retiring Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour.
Inslee on May 7 announced the appointment of Simon Barnhart, 51, a former private-practice attorney and current Clallam County Public Utility District (PUD) counsel.
Barnhart will join Judges Lauren Erickson and Brent Basden — both also initially appointed by Inslee — on June 1.
“Simon has a breadth of legal experience, particularly on the civil side, both as a litigator and advisor,” Inslee said in a press release.
“His experience and community involvement have prepared him well to take this next step onto the bench.”
Barnhart is a 1987 Port Angeles High School graduate. He earned his law degree from the University of Washington in 2003.
He worked for the former Port Angeles law firm Platt Irwin for 15 years and served as Port of Port Angeles counsel before being hired by the PUD in 2018.
Inslee selected Barnhart over lawyers Harry Gasnick, Lisa Dublin, Curtis Johnson and Alexandra Schodowski.
Barnhart bested them in a Clallam County Bar Association poll, scoring highest in judgment-objectivity, demeanor-temperament, and overall performance, and coming in a close second to Gasnick in competence-experience, 3.90-3.79.
“It was a good field of people, very competitive,” Barnhart said.
Barnhart, who does not have judicial experience, did criminal defense work early in his practice on the conflict calendar in District and Superior courts, handling misdemeanors to Class B felonies.
He also spent a fair amount of time in court on the motion calendar and in trial, he added.
“The practical experience that I was able to show in my application, I believe, helped,” he said.
Considering his changing role in the courtroom, Barnhart said that, as a lawyer, he tries thinking like a judge.
“I always believe or believed in my practical experience, that preparing for court involved understanding both sides of an issue and the strengths and weaknesses, and understanding as well as I could what the judge would need to know in order to resolve the matter,” he said.
“There is a leap in going from being an advocate to being a decision-maker, but I always believed that proper advocacy requires that you view your case from the perspective of the decision-maker in order to make the best case possible for your client.
“It’s not an insurmountable leap,” Barnhart added.
“I believe my time in court has prepared me for dealing with the issues and dynamics a judge has to manage in a courtroom environment.”
Coughenour, whose last day is May 29 and is turning 70 in November, swore Barnhart into practice before the Elwha Tribal Court in the early 2000s, when Coughenour was a tribal court judge and Barnhart was acting as a tribal court prosecutor.
“He’s a hardworking, intelligent young man,” Coughenour said Thursday.
“As a person, he’s compassionate and has a good legal mind.
“That’s what a judge needs to have.”
Barnhart is a former Clallam County Bar Association president, a former member and president of Clallam/Jefferson Pro Bono Lawyers Association, and former board president of United Way of Clallam County.
He vied for the Superior Court position now held by Coughenour in 2015 when both were the finalists, earning personal interviews with Inslee.
Barnhart said he will run for a full four-year term in the Nov. 3 general election. Filing week begins Monday.
On July 1, a month after Barnhart takes office, Superior Court judges’ salaries statewide will increase from $190,985 to $199,675.
Barnhart and his wife, Mia, who helps run Baby Grand Home Decor in Port Angeles, live in Port Angeles. They have three grown children.
When Barnhart was a Roughrider, he told his high school classmates he was going to be a lawyer or teacher.
After graduating from college at the University of Washington in 1991, he worked for Black Ball for six years, then moved to Seattle to be with his brother, Zach, a drummer, and he worked as a stage and tour manager.
Barnhart said he dabbled and experimented with career options, including construction, before attending the University of Washington School of Law in 2000, returning to Port Angeles after graduation.
“I always had my eye on Port Angeles,” Barnhart said. “I always considered it home.”