Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Lee Grochmal to the Whatcom County Superior Court bench Thursday, according to a press release from Inslee’s office.
“I’m very excited to be able to serve the community in this capacity,” Grochmal said. “I just hope to be able to provide fairness and respect to everyone who appears in the courtroom — litigants, lawyers and staff — and to provide well-reasoned decisions on every case.”
Grochmal will replace Judge Charles R. Snyder who is retiring Feb. 28. Grochmal has 25 years of legal experience and has been practicing criminal defense and bankruptcy law as a managing partner at Grochmal & Fryer in Bellingham for the past five years.
Prior to that, Grochmal was an associate attorney at Lester & Hyldahl in Bellingham for five years and worked for more than a decade as a public defender, Grochmal said.
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“Lee’s legal experience and community engagement demonstrate a strong commitment to serving under-represented and vulnerable populations, which I think is an important attribute for those who serve in our judicial system,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. “She will make an excellent addition to the Whatcom County Superior Court.”
Grochmal said she also volunteered as a disciplinary hearing officer for the Washington State Bar Association where she acted as a judge for lawyers’ disciplinary cases, and served on the board of the Opportunity Council. She recently performed pro bono debtor representation with LAW Advocates.
Grochmal received a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law in 1994 and moved to Bellingham a year later. She also received a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University.
Grochmal said she’s been practicing for a long time and now was a good time to “take on a new challenge.” She said she’s a quick learner and is not concerned with being able to get up to speed quickly with some of the issues that come before the court.
“I want people to know that I’m a hard worker and that’s how I got to this point,” Grochmal said. “I intend to serve with respect for everybody in the courtroom, that’s a big deal to me. It’s important that everybody’s voice is heard and that includes people who are often underrepresented in the court system.”
Prior to Inslee’s appointment, the Whatcom County Bar Association’s Judicial Candidate Evaluation Committee reviewed the qualifications of seven applicants for Snyder’s position, interviewed and rated them. Grochmal was one of two rated as “exceptionally well qualified.”
Whatcom County currently has four Superior Court judges who are elected to four-year terms, and three court commissioners. The judges hear felony, civil, divorce/child custody and support, guardianship, adoption, juvenile and mental illness cases and paternity actions.
Rob Olson was appointed to the bench Aug. 8 and replaced the late Judge Ira J. Uhrig who died in May from complications from lymphoma he had battled for years. With Grochmal’s appointment, three out of the four sitting judges will be women.