Amid celebration from family and the legal community, Anne Cruser officially joined the Washington State Court of Appeals on Wednesday afternoon after serving only 18 months as a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge.
For her fellow superior court judges, it was a bittersweet ceremony, ending one of the shortest superior court judicial tenures in the county’s 175-year history.
“She is whip-smart,” Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning said. “But more than anything … she is courageous.”
Cruser’s drive for legal research is akin to most people’s Amazon shopping habits, fellow Superior Court Judge Gary Bashor said.
“When she came, Anne brought an indomitable spirit, an inquisitive mind, and a penchant for doing things right,” Bashor said. “I’m going to miss her humor and intellect in an often humorless and challenging profession. … It’s going to be a loss to our community, but a great gain to the people of Washington State.”
About 100 members of the local legal community watched as Cruser was sworn in by Appellate Court Division II chief judge Brad Maxa just after noon Wednesday at the Cowlitz County Expo Center. Cruser had previously served as one of five judges on the Cowlitz County Superior Court, which oversees all felony criminal cases in Cowlitz County.
She is replacing Judge Jill Johanson, also a former county superior court Judge, on the seven-member Court of Appeals Divison II panel, which hears appeals from superior court cases across most Washington counties west of Interstate 5 and the Puget Sound.
Appeals court judges rarely conduct trials. Rather, they rule on legal appeals involving a myriad of issues, from admissibility of evidence, trial and lower court errors, interpretation of laws and applicability of previous court rulings.
Like all judges in Washington, appeals court judges are elected. Cruser will serve the remaining time in Johansen’s term, which expires on Jan. 8, 2023.
Other attorneys said the appointment was a natural fit.
Cruser started her legal career in the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office after graduating from Willamette University’s College of Law. She later served as judge pro tempore on the Cowlitz County District Court for five years. Prior to her appointment, Cruser was the lead attorney for the appellate division at the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Clark County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rachael Rogers, who worked with Cruser, said her encyclopedic legal knowledge was often “intimidating as hell,” but it challenged her and other attorneys to improve.
In September 2017, former Superior Court judge Jim Stonier spoke at Cruser’s swearing-in to the Superior Court bench.
“We knew from the moment she came to work for us, it didn’t take us too long...to realize she’d be headed for bigger and better things in the profession,” Stonier said then.
Now, one year and a half later, Cruser’s appointment seems to have proved him right once again.
“I think she’s perfectly suited to be an appellate judge,” Stonier said Wednesday. “She’s exacting in her detail. But more than that, she’s a legal scholar. She has an exceptional legal mind.”
As to whether she has even higher judicial aspirations, Cruser said she can’t say yet. The Court of Appeals is her dream job, she said, and she plans to stay there for a while.
“Appeals are a little bit like cilantro,” Cruser said. “You either love it or you hate it.”
And she joked that incoming Superior Court judge Patricia Fassett, who takes over Cruser’s seat on March 22, would have to take over her friendly teasing of Warning.
Fassett, a University of Oregon graduate and self-avowed sports geek, is perfect to take on Warning, a University of Washington graduate and die-hard Husky fan, Cruser said.
So Cruser gave her several parting gifts, including a University of Oregon banner for her office and a stuffed Oregon Duck to leave on Warning’s bench.
“And you can expand it,” Cruser joked. “If you want to want to move into whoopee cushions and things of that nature, you’re not going to hear me trying to stop you.”
Ultimately, Cruser credited the Superior Court judges, and especially Warning, for fostering a team spirit and dedication to public service on the bench.
“He taught me the importance of camaraderie, of unity,” Cruser said. “Not all judges have that kind of rapport.”