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John Cummings hopes to serve Pierce County as first openly Gay male judge

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John Cummings — Courtesy photo  

Holding any public office can be daunting, but serving as a county superior court judge requires special criteria, unlike any other position. Superior court judges run in nonpartisan elections and cannot rely on voters to check a box along party lines. They must also maintain a deep understanding of both civil and criminal law.

For John Cummings, who is running to become the first openly Gay male to serve on Pierce County's superior court bench, a love of community is essential too.

"I think that the piece that is sometimes lost is how important it is for a judge to be a part of the community," Cummings told the SGN. "I am so dedicated to the South Sound and Pierce County in particular. I met my husband here, we have two amazing cats here, we are hosting a German exchange student, and we have our family here, because we love it here."

Cummings works as a pro tem judge in Thurston County and at the Lakewood Municipal Court. Before that, he spent 15 years in front of juries as an attorney. "I began my career as a prosecutor, and my job was to keep people safe, to sit with victims in their hardest times, and I handled cases that were the most serious, including murder cases, cases involving child victims, and cases involving sexual assault," he said.

During his career, Cummings fell in love with community service. At work, this meant helping maintain the integrity of the court system. Outside of work, he volunteered at the Oasis Youth Center, where he helped counsel LGBTQ+ youth and organize name-change-clinics for Trans kids.

Connecting with members of his community is what drives Cummings. "I can remember being a prosecutor and having witnesses and victims who were members of the LGBTQ community — like I am — who did not always have a voice or feel like they had a voice in that environment," Cummings said. "I feel like it is important that everyone, no matter their orientation, their gender identity, their gender, their race, their political leanings, anything, should get a fair view and a fair voice in the courtroom."

Bringing understanding
If elected to the Pierce County Superior Court, Cummings will bring an LGBTQ+ perspective that has yet to be heard on the bench. However, he also believes he has something the bench is known for: a deep understanding of the law. "The Pierce County Superior Court bench has amazing judges right now, and what we're looking at is the retirement of four accomplished and knowledgeable judges, and so I'm bringing something that is leaving the bench," Cummings explained.

Having worked on both criminal and civil cases, Cummings believes he can address the backlog since the COVID-19 pandemic with the proper efficiency needed to solve the delays. Because criminal cases take precedence over civil ones, and Pierce County still only has 23 judges despite a rapidly increasing population, many civil disputes — including property crime, landlord conflicts, and zoning crises — have been put on hold. With the retirement of four skilled judges, many in Pierce County fear the backlog will only get worse.

"The judges leaving have a very deep understanding of real estate and construction law, and that's a gap I am ready to jump into and fill because I've practiced that," Cummings said. "I've seen what happens when landlords discriminate, I've seen what happens when tenants are damaging property — I understand all sides of the situation."

While Cummings would be the first Gay male to serve on the bench in Pierce County, and the second Queer person after Washington Supreme Court Justice Helen Whitener, he holds a shifting perspective on what it means to be a "first."

"In 2024, we have the bittersweet of being a 'first.' We need to have a first to have a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth," Cummings said. "What we need as Queer people is representation from all aspects of the LGBTQ community, and that includes Gay men, Lesbian women, and Trans people, which we need. There's never been a Trans person as a judge in Pierce County either. So, we need a full diversity of perspectives.

"I bring a perspective, an understanding of my lived experience that's come from a really well-examined life, and through a lot of work in every workplace I've ever been in, to help lead the way in making our workplace more inclusive. And I'm really excited to continue to do that in the Pierce County Superior Court, because our courts, our jury systems, our depositions — all aspects of the judicial system — have to continue to be inclusive of all people."

Cummings is also aware that some voters may be concerned about biases attached to his identity. "I fully understand that doing justice means recognizing that a person's membership in a particular community does not make them any less or more culpable than anyone else. I'll judge people by the facts, a good-faith application of the law, and the merits of the case. That's it." he said.