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Superior Court

Posted on: September 28, 2020

Judge Kathryn Nelson retires from Superior Court

Pierce County Superior Court is announcing the retirement of Judge Kathryn J. Nelson from the bench after more than 19 years. Judge Nelson served as a Pierce County Superior Court Judge, Department 13, from January 2001 to September 18, 2020.

Judge Nelson was born and raised in Tacoma. She is proud of her family’s long-time residence in the city where her maternal grandfather was born in 1897 and her paternal grandmother graduated from catholic boarding school in 1924. Judge Nelson attended Wilson High School and graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in Secondary Education. She later obtained her General Teaching Certificate and taught at Clover Park High School, Cascade Junior High in Auburn and William S. Hart High School in Newhall, California.  

She graduated from UCLA with a juris doctorate in 1979.  From 1979 until 1981 she worked in commercial litigation in Los Angeles.  One highlight of membership in the Los Angeles County Bar Association were legal programs involving then-sitting President Jimmy Carter and 1980’s presidential candidate Ronald Regan. During these years Judge Nelson received an award for her volunteer work in landlord-tenant law from the Beverly Hills Bar Association.  

In late 1981, Judge Nelson returned to Tacoma and became the first female attorney to join Eisenhower & Carlson. In 1986, she became the firm’s first female partner. Judge Nelson loved the practice of law and the diverse nature of her clients and their issues. She was involved in Native American Indian fishing and shellfish rights, and gaming litigation in Federal Court, dissolution cases involving frozen embryos, the modern application of the tort of trespass to pollution, and workplace sexual harassment cases, among others.  After the death of her first husband, Ken Nelson, in 1999, she successfully ran for judicial office.  

Throughout Judge Nelson’s judicial career, juvenile court was her passion.  This passion led to many years of dedicated service with the Superior Court Judges Association’s CASA Board of Governors and to her role as Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court Improvement Program.  In 2011, Judge Nelson married Michael Johnson, who passed away in 2014. 

Judge Kathryn J. Nelson’s compassion, work ethic, and commitment to the rule of law made her a highly-valued member of Pierce County Superior Court, where she was praised by colleagues as a consensus builder.  She anticipates many new adventures during retirement, including travel, her tenure as the 2020 president of Rotary #8 in Tacoma, and spending time with her extended family, which includes 12 grandchildren.  Please join us in congratulating Judge Nelson on her retirement.  

Pierce County Superior Court is the second largest Superior Court in the State of Washington and is proud to serve the citizens and visitors of Pierce County.  The Court is staffed with 22 Judges and 9 Commissioners.  There are three sites where court is held; the County-City Building at 930 Tacoma Ave S., Tacoma, Remann Hall Juvenile Court at 5501 6th Ave., Tacoma, and Western State Hospital at 9601 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Lakewood.  For more information, please visit our website at http://www.piercecountywa.gov/superiorcourt.   


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