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Judge Theodore Ferdinand Spearman Jr., 64, died peacefully January 3, 2012 at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with his wife and family at his side. He had been hospitalized since December 7 as a result of complications from a brain aneurysm.
Born in Seattle on January 10, 1947, Ted was adopted as an infant by Theodore Spearman, Sr. (1896-1984) and Nevada Letitia Jane (Roberts) Spearman (1897-2002) of Yakima, the finest parents imaginable for this lucky baby boy. As a young track star, he won the U.S. Junior Olympic championship in the shot put. A 1964 Davis High School graduate and Eagle Scout, he attended Yakima Valley College where he met Marie Annette Mullenneix, both 19 years old in 1966. Stanford University offered a track scholarship and Marie, knowing she had found her soul mate, followed Ted and watched him graduate in 1968. They married May 16, 1969 in Palo Alto, California.
His parents’ ardent work over many decades for the NAACP guided his career of obstinate advocacy for justice. Ted received his Juris Doctor at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor in 1971, just a few months before their daughter Simone Letitia was born. Offered a partnership in a civil rights law firm in Detroit, Ted first practiced criminal and then civil law. He also enjoyed teaching as an adjunct professor at Wayne State University Law School. As a lawyer in Michigan, Ted successfully pursued civil litigation against the Detroit Police Department in multiple police brutality cases.
In 1983 the family moved back to Washington to be closer to aging parents. While studying for the Washington State Bar exam, Ted worked a summer learning carpentry, plumbing and electrical work with Marie’s Uncle John Mullenneix. Ted’s mother, then in her late 80s, had her son to herself once again.
After two trial runs with law firms in Seattle, Ted decided to captain his own ship as a sole practitioner of civil law on Bainbridge Island. Marie worked alongside as legal assistant, bookkeeper and office manager for 20 years. Ted represented personal injury and civil rights clients, often joining as co-counsel on difficult cases around the state involving police misconduct. Making lifelong friends with many among Bainbridge Island’s “live-aboard” community, Ted was passionate in his efforts to protect their right to moor in Eagle Harbor.
In 1998, Ted was a finalist for appointment as a judge to the United States District Court, Western Division. He was also appointed by the State Supreme Court to the Capital Counsel Qualification Panel, which oversees the development of attorneys qualified for appointment in death penalty cases. In 2004, he was appointed to the Kitsap County Superior Court by Governor Gary Locke and was twice reelected, unopposed. The Kitsap County community welcomed him as their first African American judge.
The best part of being a judge, Ted often said, was formalizing adoptions and presiding over weddings. His passionate work to better his community created lifetime friendships. Through 2010, he mentored a young boy during their lunch hours, and this past November he proudly completed a four-year term as trustee with the Legal Foundation of Washington, an organization promoting equal access to civil justice for low-income people.
Ted’s love of ideas, language and contemplation nearly steered him away from the law and toward graduate studies in philosophy, a lifelong fascination that guided his desire to be vigilant, to be observant and to “be here now.” A self-described student of Dharma, he read voraciously, explored the emotional peaks and troughs of golf, loved music and the natural joys of his Island home.
Always proud of his heritage and his parents’ commitment to racial justice, Ted was foremost a member of our human race. His mother and father’s genetic roots included African, European and Native American ancestry. Only recently did he learn his own genetic heritage combined Russian Jewish with Scots-African of Jamaica, West Indies.
Above all else, Ted prized the sacredness of his wife and mate of 42 years, and their family—daughter Simone Spearman, son-in-law Jason Weaver, and granddaughter Saja Spearman Weaver, of Guerneville, California. Meditative and thoughtful, persuasive and kind, Ted lived the full life of a warrior poet.
Memorial services will be held Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. at the Suquamish Community House, Suquamish, Washington. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to the Kitsap County Juvenile Youth Fund, the YWCA of Kitsap County's ALIVE program or the Legal Foundation of Washington.
Longtime lawyer, Bainbridge Islander, civil rights champion and the first African-American to ascend to the Kitsap County Superior Court bench, died Tuesday night due to complications from a brain aneurysm. He was 64.
Appointed by then-Gov. Gary Locke in 2004 and subsequently re-elected twice to the bench, Spearman, a voracious reader, often quoted to his colleagues the principle that guided him more than any other was "to follow his bliss."
In life, he had two blisses: the family he loved and the bench on which he served. The former often shaped the latter. Spearman, who was adopted and raised in Yakima, believed that finishing adoptions was "his peak experience" as a judge, his family says, and that he felt family required love and nurturing, not necessarily genetics.
The 64-year-old, who each day talked with his daughter, Simone, by phone on his morning commute to Port Orchard, loved to reach out to youth in the criminal justice system to help them chart a new, positive course in life. And just as he worked to become a more patient and loving husband, according to daughter Simone, few judges were as compassionate as Spearman to both victim and defendant in a criminal case, according to Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge. His courtroom decorum was always one of professionalism and respect. "He was such a gentleman," Hauge said. "A consummate trial lawyer, he elevated everybody who practiced in front of him."
A graduate of Stanford University who earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1971, Spearman and his wife, Marie, moved to Bainbridge Island in 1983. Longtime Mason County attorney Rob Wilson-Hoss first met Spearman soon after he moved to the area. Wilson-Hoss was enveloped in a big federal civil rights case, Davis v. Mason County. At its core, the case involved a hay wagon driver who a sheriff's deputy thought was eluding him and led to a bloody confrontation.
Spearman, a national expert in federal civil rights cases, was eager to help, Wilson-Hoss said. "He really helped us figure out what the heck we were doing," he said. As he grew to know Spearman, Wilson-Hoss realized, "Ted wasn't like anybody else. This was a guy who just really got the whole justice thing," Wilson-Hoss said. "He didn't err on the side of corporations or the little guy. He just had a unique way of looking at things."
In 1997, Spearman represented a disabled woman who'd been raped by a group home employee in Yakima; the state Supreme Court ruling he won was hailed as heightening the standard of protections for nursing and group home residents.
Gerald Elfendahl, a Bainbridge Island historian, remembers when, as a lawyer and resident of Bainbridge, Spearman argued before the City Council in the late '90s about the fate of the island's liveaboard community. "We should preserve and honor diversity in our community," Elfindahl recalls Spearman as saying. On a personal level, Elfindahl said Spearman had a special way of connecting with people. "He was the kind of person that when you walked in and talked to, you felt like you'd known each other your whole lives," he said.
Spearman also taught legal courses and chaired the state bar's civil rights committee, served on its disciplinary board and served on another board that develops lawyers for death penalty cases. In 1999, Spearman narrowly missed an appointment to become a federal judge in U.S. District Court. One of three finalists for the post, Spearman was thrilled just to be considered. "I need somebody to pull me back down to earth," he told the Kitsap Sun. "My feet aren't on the ground yet."
His shot at judge would come in March 2004, replacing retiring Judge Terry McCluskey. Much fanfare surrounded his appointment as the first African-American on the bench. When it came time to run for election that fall, Spearman called Ralph Munro, former Washington secretary of state and longtime Bainbridge resident. "When I endorsed him, he was really happy," Munro said. "He told me that he 'needed' a Republican on the list. I am darn glad that I gave him that name." Munro noted that he would become the "first judge of color west of Puget Sound (and) he turned out to be a very fine judge." "I am proud of his contributions to our county," Munro said.
Washington Court of Appeals Judge J. Robin Hunt knew Spearman on a personal level more than professional as the pair were close friends on the island. Hunt spent part of her Christmas singing "Silent Night" with Spearman at his bedside. She spoke of his "zest for life, love of his family and passion for the law. When I think of him, I think of this constant twinkle in his eye," Hunt said. "His big warm smile, generous heart and his exuberant nature."
In his personal life, Spearman loved nature, played golf, and held a penchant for Native American culture, Hunt said. He meditated each morning, was a student of Dharma and kept a strict vegan diet. He also loved music and played the flute and various types of drums, studied Dharma and tinkered with his Apple devices.Spearman watched with great awe the election victory of Barack Obama, the first African-American president — an event he never thought he'd see in his lifetime.
Spearman first ran into health problems in 2008, suffering a heart attack. But he rebounded until suffering the aneurysm in December 2011.
Spearman was optimistic about the future. As the keynote speaker at a Kitsap County ceremony honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 80th birthday nearly two years ago, he reflected on King but also looked forward: "Tomorrow will be as no other day before it."
Spearman is survived by his wife, Marie; daughter, Simone Spearman; son-in-law, Jason Weaver; and granddaughter, Saja Spearman Weaver. He was preceded in death by his parents, Theodore Ferdinand Spearman and Nevada Letitia Jane (Roberts) Spearman.
"His wife, Marie, was his soul mate, and her presence in his life comforted him and gave him great joy," said Presiding Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Anna M. Laurie. "His daughter was the bright light of his life. His granddaughter was the source of great pride and wonderment. His son-in-law gave him strength."
"His work as a Superior Court judge was also his bliss," she said. "We in his court family have a profound sense of emptiness from his passing."
© 2012 Kitsap Sun. All rights reserved.
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