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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 26
SGN exclusive interview: Liz Berns, candidate for King County Superior Court
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SGN exclusive interview: Liz Berns, candidate for King County Superior Court

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

For Liz Berns, the desire to run for Superior Court judge came gradually.

'I've spent three years as a pro tem [acting] judge,' she explained. 'Through that experience it all came together for me. It seemed to me that as a judge, I was bringing the best of who I am to the community.

'And it's a positive reflection of the diversity we enjoy in King County,' she added.

Born in Seattle, a graduate of the University of Washington and Puget Sound University Law School, Elizabeth Berns has been practicing law for two decades, she tells SGN. She helped found the Northwest Women's Law Center (now Legal Voice) and is a member of the GSBA and QLaw, the LGBT bar association. Currently she is a judge pro tem in King County District Court and a commissioner pro tem in King County Superior Court.

She also has a busy family life.

'I have a wonderful partner, two teenage sons, and four dogs - I'll know how to keep order in my courtroom,' she grinned.

'My family was very much involved in the decision to run,' Berns said. 'We had the discussion at Thanksgiving. And they've been very involved in the campaign. My partner has been to every legislative district meeting. My oldest son has been acting as my campaign manager.'

Asked what was the most useful campaign advice her son had given her, she replied, 'To keep sight of my goal - becoming a judge - and do my best to get there.'

Berns says that Superior Court is, in many ways, a microcosm of society, and all of society's stresses and tensions come up in court cases.

'In Superior Court you run the whole spectrum of cases,' she noted. 'People might be surprised to know that the majority of cases are civil cases. Forty percent are family law cases.

'We need to be aware what the issues are. There's a tremendous amount of stress in the community - and that's concentrated in the Superior Court.'

Judges have to be sensitive to community issues, Berns says, so they can apply the law in appropriate ways.

'As judges we serve our community and reflect its values,' she explained. 'It's not only applying the law to facts and circumstances - it's putting [the law] in context.

'That doesn't change how we apply it, but we work with human beings and we have to understand the diversity of our community and how that impacts people in situations of conflict and stress.'

Berns acknowledges that many cases - even civil cases - are 'very emotional' for the people involved, and says her number one goal is for individuals who appear in court to feel she has listened to their side of the story.

'You have to give people the opportunity to tell their stories and feel they've been heard,' she says. 'Everyone needs to have the opportunity to be heard and treated with respect.

'And then I have to explain my decision. That's also very important. I've had people tell me 'I don't like your decision, but you heard me out and I understand why you decided the way you did; I'll live with it.'

This is Berns' first run for a public office. Asked what she finds challenging as a candidate, she replied, 'It's difficult to learn the political process. This is a countywide race, in a place with 1.8 million people.

'It's frustrating to learn just how little people know about judicial candidates. How few people vote for judges. And candidates can't give a lot of information because of the canons [of judicial ethics].

'I want voters to know they have a say in who they want sitting in positions that will have an impact on their lives.'

Noting that she has been endorsed by many judges - including two retired state Supreme Court justices - as well as by State Sen. Ed Murray, State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, City Councilmember Sally Clark, former Municipal Court judge Anne Levinson, and the King County Labor Council, Berns says she hopes her endorsements will help voters know who she is.

'To have the trust and confidence of judges - and from so many wonderful leaders from the community - well, endorsements are a way for many people to get to know the candidate,' Berns says.

'They say 'I have shared values with you. I may not know how you'd rule in a case, but I know we have shared values.'

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