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Gov. Gregoire appoints Eaton San Juan County Superior Court judge

Don Eaton ... Friday Harbor lawyer, town attorney and court commissioner is San Juan County
Don Eaton ... Friday Harbor lawyer, town attorney and court commissioner is San Juan County's new Superior Court judge.
— image credit: Law office of Don Eaton

Donald E. Eaton was serving Friday as Superior Court commissioner.

Effective March 22, he'll be serving as Superior Court judge.

Gov. Christine Gregoire today announced Eaton's appointment to the San Juan County Superior Court, effective March 22. He will succeed Judge John O. Linde, who died in December.

The other candidates were Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord and Friday Harbor attorney John Wickham. District Court Judge Stewart Andrew withdrew his name from contention last week, saying he would instead seek a fourth term as District Court judge in November.

Superior Court judges are paid $148,832 a year. They preside over cases that involve felony crimes, civil complaints and land-use disputes; family law matters, such as divorce, parental custody and paternity; and legal filings concerning probates and estates.

In San Juan County, the Superior Court judge also presides over affairs of Juvenile Court.

“I was impressed with Don the moment I met him,” Gregoire said in an announcement. “He has a history of being honest, fair and compassionate, and has the respect of his community and colleagues. He brings extensive legal experience to this position which will greatly serve the citizens of San Juan County.”

Eaton said in an announcement released by the governor's office, “It is a great honor to have been selected by the governor of the state of Washington to serve the people of San Juan County as their next Superior Court judge and I look forward to serving this community for many years to come. I am committed to providing fair and well reasoned decisions that are based on both common sense and the law as it is written.”

Eaton has maintained a general law practice in Friday Harbor for more than 30 years. He’s served as Superior Court commissioner since 1984 and has been the town attorney for Friday Harbor since 1981.

When he is sworn in as judge, he will have to give up his private practice. The Town of Friday Harbor will have to find a new town attorney as well. Therein lies the element of risk in the appointment: Eaton will have to run in the November election to serve the final two years of Linde's term, and run in 2012 for a full four-year yerm.

Jim Cahail, Friday Harbor's mayor from 1984-1993, applauded Eaton's appointment to the Superior Court bench. He said he and the Town Council were always able to count on Eaton for wise counsel.

"He's a very thorough and fair person. We counted on him and he never let us down," Cahail said.

Gary Boothman, who served as Friday Harbor mayor from 1998-2005, said he and former mayors Cahail, Bill La Porte and David Jones signed a letter to Gregoire supporting Eaton's appointment. In the letter, the mayors said Eaton has always advocated "fairness, openness and objectivity."

"He's very objective, honest and straightforward in his approach to the law," Boothman said Friday. "He always said the town should be ultimately fair in dealing with people, that you have to have a good reason for what you're doing. That always impressed me. I'm really pleased that he's been appointed."

Eaton earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Vermont. He attended Boston College Law School, where he was a Presidential Scholar for three years. Following law school, Eaton served three years in the United States Army, one of those years as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

Eaton has offered pro-bono legal services for many years to Spring Street International School and The Whale Museum, and his participation in evening Town Council meetings has been without charge. Eaton also helped establish San Juan Island’s first day care facility, as well as San Juan Community Theatre.

“Gov. Gregoire has made an excellent decision in appointing Don Eaton as San Juan County Superior Court judge,” Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock said. “Don provided exemplary service as court commissioner during the time I served in San Juan County, and I know that he has the experience and integrity to be an outstanding judge. I congratulate him.”

Eaton and his wife, Shryl, have been married for 31 years. They have three children — Deja Osborne, Trudy McDanniel and Kyle Eaton — and three grandchildren.

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