Daily Archives: December 27, 2010

Kitsap’s ‘other’ Supreme Court justice


Today’s paper has my profile Charlie Wiggins, a longtime Bainbridge attorney who was recently elected to the state Supreme Court. You can read it here.

During my interview with Wiggins, he told me he had suspected during his campaign that a win may make him the first Supreme Court justice from Kitsap.

It sounded a bit far-fetched to me. In more than 120 years of state history, no Kitsaper had ever served on the state’s highest court?

Wiggins said he wasn’t 100 percent sure, so he ran off and grabbed his copy of Charles Sheldon’s “A History of Judging: A Political History of the Washington Supreme Court.” Inside were handy lists noting each justice’s basic information, including their residence when elected or appointed.

Sure enough, not one justice hailed from Kitsap. Not even the dozen or so justices that served after the book was published were Kitsap residents.

Wiggins was relieved. His place in Kitsap history was apparently secured.


But with a little digging around at the fantastic Northwest History Reference Collection at the downtown Bremerton library, I did find some information on one other justice with a strong Kitsap connection: Walter M. French.

The Michigan-born French was elected to the Kitsap County Superior Court in 1912, after about a decade of practicing law in Seattle and Alaska.

French appears to have been restless for higher office while serving in Kitsap, and lobbied several times for an appointment to the state Supreme Court. He never got the appointment, apparently because his party-leanings (Democrat) never matched the governor’s (Republican).

In 1918, he ditched the appointment route and ran against an incumbent, but failed.

The years of disappointment apparently convinced French to abandon Kitsap and become a roving fill-in superior court judge. For eight years he traveled all over the state, building up his name recognition and political clout.

The years of unofficial campaigning helped him – as a Tacoma resident – finally win a Supreme Court seat in 1927.

Wiggins laughed when I told him about French.

“I never had to leave Kitsap to get elected,” he said.