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Susan Amini runs for Superior Court Judge - "Access to justice is dear to my heart."
Susan Amini runs for Superior Court Judge - "Access to justice is dear to my heart."
by Mike Andrew - SGN Contributing Writer

Susan Amini brings a unique perspective to the legal profession. An attorney and pro tem judge running for King County Superior Court, she was born in Iran and emigrated to the US in 1980. Her entry into this country, in the wake of the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the subsequent seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, was not easy.

"The US embassy in Paris was not issuing visas to Iranians," she recalls. "I had to wait 11 months for a green card. My husband already had his green card, but I had to wait." Both Amini and her husband have since become US citizens.

While she found the wait agonizing at the time, she believes it "gives me a different perspective based on my own life experience. I can explain to immigrants how the process works. That's important when you're in court and you don't really know what's going on & I can share my experience with immigrants and we can talk about how you work through it."

Sometimes she finds that her cases mirror her own experience almost exactly. "I had a case from Jordan, a marriage case. The US embassy in Amman was just giving them the run-around. There was no issue, really, they just weren't giving the visa. I made some noises and within 72 hours we got the wife here."

Amini and two other candidates competing for an open seat on the King County Superior Court will appear on the primary ballot on August 19. The top two candidates will advance to the general election in November. She has been a pro tem judge since 1994, serving as needed in trials throughout King County. She is a graduate of the University of Tehran and the University of Maryland Law School, and has practiced law for 17 years.

Amini believes her experiences have taught her what it takes to be a good judge. "There are the obvious things. You have to be fair, you have to be smart, you have to pay attention to details, you have to be patient, because people can be argumentative and upset & but I'm also really interested in issues of access to justice."

"There are silent barriers to access," she explains. "Physical disabilities - those are obvious. But there are also language barriers, cultural barriers, literacy issues. You know, in court they come with forms - waivers of hearing rights, and so on - and the language is fairly simple, but I'm not sure everyone gets it. So you ask them, do you understand? And no one will say, no I don't. So I will take the time to read them out loud to people, and they look at me as if they just got it. Because there's a stigma attached to not knowing English, and not being able to read the documents."

The court system should "leave people with hope for the next day," Amini believes. "Everybody gets in trouble sometime. It's a question of how you solve the problem. You have to let people know they can face this. That there's an avenue for them to be heard."

Amini recalls one case involving an MTF Transgender client. "She faced some misdemeanor charges relating to her former wife, and there was some bad behavior by the police on arrest. So it was a very stressful situation for her." To make matters worse, the charging document introduced by prosecutors used her former male name.

"Prior to arraignment I made a motion to correct the docket and use her correct female name," Amini says. "I told her we would not respond to the charges till the documents were corrected. I didn't want her to have to face more humiliation, and she was relieved that she wouldn't have to face yet another negative experience."

"You have to be mindful of the everyday logical things," Amini continues. "You treat sexual orientation and gender identity like every other special condition. You don't point out disabilities, you don't point out race, you don't point out nationality, why should you point out gender issues?"

Access is not merely an abstract principle to Amini, but deeply personal. "Access to justice is dear to my heart. It goes back to an issue I had with the school district when my son was young. They didn't want to let him play in the schoolyard because he was blind, and they were afraid he'd get hurt. But he wanted to play like every other child. I told them I'd rather deal with a broken arm than a broken spirit. Everyone should be treated the same."

Today Amini's son Cyrus is in law school. "It fits him perfectly," she says. "He can argue either side of an issue until you give up." She notes with pride that he is on his way to Washington DC to testify in a lawsuit advocating a new currency design where the denomination can be distinguished by touch, as an accommodation for the blind. "Both my husband and I are so proud of him. Amazed."

Amini credits her pro tem service with convincing her to run for a permanent seat on the Superior Court. "All the judges I served with were good mentors," she says, "and I had an opportunity to act in that position. You have to know internally that you can do the job, that you're not just saying this is what I want without practicing it."

Amini says she is working hard on her campaign. "I started earlier than the other candidates," she says. "I needed to learn the process of campaigning and getting endorsements. It's an important decision to run for a judgeship. It's not something you just leave to chance." Amini has earned endorsements from a broad spectrum of organizations including the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, NARAL Pro Choice Washington, the Washington State Women's Political Caucus, and 12 Democratic Party district organizations.

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