Tears, laughter and prayers flowed in equal amounts Saturday as friends and family remembered the life of former District Court Judge David Koss.
“It is hard for me to imagine a more loving father on this side of heaven than my own,” his son Jeffrey Koss said.
From waking up daily at 4:15 a.m. to perform his devotions to timing his son’s laps on the track field, David Koss, 65 was a father meticulously and tenderly devoted to his family and to the law, his son recalled Saturday.
About 350 family and friends gathered at Longview’s Calvary Community Church to celebrate Koss, who died suddenly and unexpectedly on March 9 after his routine morning jog around Lake Sacajawea, two months after retiring from a quarter-century judicial career.
This month was the 30th anniversary of his wedding to his wife, Sarah Koss (née Deatherage).
David Koss’ brother Bill remembered his brother as a high achiever who kept his room tidy and trained tirelessly as a track athlete. The brothers ran laps on the field while other students left campus for spring break, Bill Koss said.
The last time he saw his brother, Bill Koss said, was about three weeks ago, when David Koss offered to stay up late and drive out to meet family rather than have them come to him for a pet hand-off.
“And that’s David,” Bill Koss said in a voice thick with emotion.
About 50 uniformed police officers and deputies attended the memorial. As judge, Koss’ duties included signing warrants to authorize officers to make an arrest or search property. For Koss, an early sleeper and riser, this often meant waking in the middle of the night to knocks on the door from officers.
But “we used to joke that the phone didn’t even ring,” Longview Police Detective Branden McNew said. “He would pick it up within half a ring. Like he’d been waiting all night for you to call.”
Former Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson agreed and said Koss was “the first guy” on many deputies’ call list when they needed to reach a judge.
And Nelson remarked that Koss based his decisions on both the law and a sense of compassion.
“I think Judge Koss realized that people are fallible, and without them we wouldn’t need the law at all,” Nelson said. “He was just a true gentlemen in every sense of the word.”
“I’ve never met anybody who did everything as right as David Koss,” said sister-in-law Marie Deatherage. “We all got to watch Dave live an exemplary life.”
When family was unsure about how to handle a situation, Deatherage said, they’d often ask themselves: “What would Dave do?”
Koss was born July 16, 1953 in Ketchikan, Alaska, but he grew up in Seattle. After graduating Shorecrest High School in 1971 he attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he competed all four years in track and cross country and graduated with a bachelor’s in political science. He earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from New York University in 1978.
For most of his time as judge, Koss shared the bench with Ed Putka, who retired along with Koss in January after an 18-year career on the bench.
Putka said Koss’ faith once influenced him to offer a “jubilee year” for those wishing to get their driver’s licenses reinstatement — mirroring the Old Testament tradition of forgiving debts and freeing slaves and prisoners. Even people whose licenses had been revoked and then failed the program to get it back could try again.
Koss was chief civil deputy at the county prosecutor’s office from 1981 until 1993. Prosecuting attorney Eric Bentson, who worked with Koss for a few years and attended church with him, praised Koss’ work ethic and legal knowledge.
“He had a brilliant legal mind,” Bentson said. “(And) he chose to use that mind in our little county here ... but he belonged at the Supreme Court.”
In 1993, Koss was appointed as District Court judge by Cowlitz County commissioners. In that capacity, he decided thousands of cases ranging from traffic infractions to criminal misdemeanors and weddings.
Superior Court Judge Michael Evans briefly shared the District Court bench with Koss, who he said “shaped me as a lawyer and a judge.”
Evans said he learned to emulate Koss’ methodical and disciplined approach to the job, such as by delivering jury instructions identically each time.
“He saw the divine within each of us,” Evans concluded.
Then-commissioner Van Youngquist in 1993 called Koss “a potential jurist of the highest caliber,” and 25 years later at Koss’ retirement, told him: “You didn’t let us down.”
At Koss’ memorial Saturday, Youngquist offered another perspective on his passing.
“The good Lord maybe needed somebody to settle disputes,” Youngquist said. “And he got the best attorney he could find.”