For the first time in 36 years, Charles Silverman says, “I have no plans.”
Except for getting to know Deborah, his wife, a bit better, he quipped. That came in response to a comment by his boss, Prosecutor Randy Gaylord, who noted a famous quote by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, “The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship.”
A crowd of 40-plus filled the hallway on the first floor of the county courthouse to hear friends and colleagues praise Silverman’s career and wish him well in retirement.
Gaylord reminisced that Silverman, the county’s chief deputy prosecutor, was his first hire after being elected prosecuting attorney in 1994. By that time Silverman had already worked as an assistant prosecutor in four counties, including seven years in San Juan County for Gene Knapp before seven years’ service in Gray’s Harbor and Mason counties.
“He was a mentor and teacher for me, and a tireless advocate for justice,” Gaylord said. Friday Harbor attorney Steve Brandli, who worked with Silverman in the prosecutor’s office, said he was a model lawyer: “He embodies everything I want to be as a lawyer.”
Former Sheriff Bill Cumming said that he owes a lot to Silverman.
“He pointed me in the right direction when I started in 1980 and I was thrilled when he returned in 1994,” Cumming said. “You can’t calculate the benefits he had to the sheriff’s office. He always pushed us, made sure that all the questions were asked, sometimes more than once.”
In addition to a dogged tenacity and unwavering work ethic, Cumming said that Silverman will long be remembered for the compassion that he brought to the job, a quality that endeared him to his many colleagues and to the community as well.
Silverman was involved in every “big case” in San Juan County over the last 20 years.
In a letter to the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorney nominating Silverman for the President’s Award of the association, Gaylord listed the cases: the Ruth Neslund murder trial, which inspired an Ann Rule book; the State v. Christensen case which established the privacy rights of cordless phone use and was included in a book by Bill O’Reilly; the Beanie Babies, one of the first internet fraud cases; the Waldron Island marijuana case featured nationally in the media; and the prosecution of Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit.
Silverman, however, doesn’t count the “big cases” or his many other victories as “best memories.”
“What I’ll remember most is coming to work every day with people who care, who want to do the right thing every day,” he said in his remarks to the group of well-wishers.
Silverman’s successor as county criminal prosecutor, Emma Scanlan, leaves behind the criminal defense practice of high-profile Seattle lawyer John Henry Browne. Browne and Scanlan, a 2006 graduate of the University of Washington law school, defended Colton Harris-Moore and, more recently, Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier who was just sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan.
Gaylord presented Silverman with two parting gifts. One, an elaborate large keepsake quilt sewn by Camolyn Armstrong and Colleen Kenimond with a hundred squares of material signed by 100 of Silverman’s friends and colleagues. The other, a drawing by Milt Prigge showing Silverman, an accomplished pianist, playing and singing for “Lady Justice” in a scene harkening back to a famous photo of President Harry S. Truman tickling the ivories for Lauren Bacall.
Silverman’s last day on the job is Friday, March 14, but friends and colleagues know he won’t simply disappear.
“I’m already missing him, thinking about how the void will be filled,” said Juvenile Court Administrator Tom Kearney of their 30-year working relationship. “But I get a smile on my face just thinking about what he’ll be doing in the future.”
A smile that Charles Silverman, the man with “no plans,” shares.
— Journal editor Scott Rasmussen contributed to this report.