A Local Meet-Up With Rita Latsinova
A review of the recent island meet-up with Rita Latsinove written by Caren Potter…
Approximately 50 San Juan Island residents gathered at the False Bay Drive home of Allison and John Moalli last Thursday to meet and learn more about Rita Latsinova, a fellow island resident who is running for an open seat on the Washington State Court of Appeals.
After some time for socializing and a delicious dinner prepared by Paellas San Juan, the group gathered inside the Moalli’s home where Rita delivered some brief prepared remarks, starting with an explanation of what a Washington Court of Appeals does. As she explained, it’s quite different from the type of court most of us envision – no juries or witnesses, just lawyers speaking in front of a panel of three judges.
“Appellate courts do not try cases or hear evidence,” Rita said. “They decide if the court that originally tried the case made a mistake that was so big that the case needs to be retried or reversed. It’s more technical, some would say dry, but I love it.”
Appellate cases have been Rita’s specialty throughout her nearly 25-year law career. She has argued cases in all three of the Washington appellate courts as well as the Ninth Circuit and Federal Courts of Appeals, representing a range of clients including state government and private businesses, as well as private citizens she took on pro bono.
Rita is currently a partner at the Stoel Rives firm in Seattle. Her schedule revolves around the weekly commute to and from the island where she lives with her husband and daughter. “Preparation is key for appellate work, and I get a lot of reading done on the ferry,” she joked.
During her remarks, Rita also explained her reasons for wanting to switch from arguing cases as a lawyer to deciding them as a judge. One is geographic. The open seat is on the Washington State Court of Appeals Division 1, the appellate court that sits in Seattle (the others are in Spokane and Tacoma), and the judge must come from District 3, the district that encompasses San Juan, Whatcom, Skagit, and Island counties.
Another reason she’s running is that the open seat is currently held by Judge Mary Kay Becker of Bellingham, who is retiring. Judge Becker is one of only three women on the 10-member court. “I would like to see a woman keep that seat,” said Rita, adding that while she is competing against two other women (and two men) for the position, she has much more experience in appellate law than they do.
Her third reason is personal. Rita immigrated to this country from Russia in 1990 and became a US citizen in 1994. “As an immigrant who came to this country and embraced its values, I am committed on a personal level to the rule of law and an independent judiciary,” she said. “It is not an academic thing for me. I want to bring all this to the challenge of running for Judge Becker’s seat.”
Experience is Rita’s fourth, and perhaps most important, reason for running. Her many hours spent in appeals courts, including arguing cases before Judge Becker, position her perfectly for this seat. As her endorsements indicate, many agree that she is the most qualified candidate.
“The Court of Appeals is a very technical court, requiring knowledge in all aspects of the law and judicial procedures,” said former Supreme Court Justice, Phil Talmadge. “Rita’s the only one running who has that wealth of experience. It’s been her professional focus for two decades.”
“I have never been a candidate for elected office and I would have kept it that way if not for this once-in-a-25-year opportunity,” Rita remarked.
She mentioned another, side benefit to this endeavor: “It has been a good civics lesson for our daughter, Sasha,” Rita said, as Sasha, a student at Spring Street International School, recorded the evening’s events with her cell phone.
The election takes place this fall, but Rita’s first hurdle is coming up sooner than that. She needs to be one of the top two vote getters in the primary election, which takes place on August 7th.
Rita plans to get out and meet as many voters as she can between now and then, but with four counties in the district, she has a lot of territory to cover. If you haven’t yet met her, you can learn more about her and check for other events on her web site: ritaforcourtofappeals.com.