WACDL announces its 2020 awards recipients

April 21, 2020

WACDL is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2020 awards. Their presentation, delayed a year due to the pandemic, will take place at WACDL's annual awards dinner on June 11, 2021 at Campbell’s Resort in Chelan, Washington.

William O. Douglas Award

The William O. Douglas Award recognizes extraordinary courage and commitment in the practice of criminal law, traits that Robert Perez (Bellevue), the 2020 recipient, exemplifies.

Robert recently concluded an illustrious career devoted to criminal defense. He continues to serve the next generation of criminal lawyers by responding to their queries, acting as a cheerleader in times of victory, and a strong support beam at times of defeat. Colleagues have counted on him because he is intelligent, ethical, and professional, but many go to him because he is warm and approachable. These are the intangibles Robert possesses that make his mark on the criminal law community one that will never be forgotten.
Robert can point to victorious trials such as those in 2016 when he tried a multiple count sex case in King County and obtained an across the board acquittal and in 2017, when he tried a second-degree rape in Skagit County, obtaining an acquittal two days after selecting a jury.

But the cases that stick with him the most, not all of them victories, are those that had a profound effect on him as a lawyer and as a human being. During a 1981 self-defense trial, jury selection had to recess after the attempted assassination of President Reagan. Despite the tense environment and despite that Robert’s client had had armed himself with a firearm, burst into a room where the alleged victim sat and shot him at point blank range, his client claimed self-defense, and he was acquitted on all nine counts.
In 2008, Robert lost a first-degree murder trial in Snohomish County. After the Court imposed a 34-year sentence, Robert’s client turned to him, gave him a hug, and said he knew Robert did everything he could. In 2019, Robert lost a multiple count sex case in King County. He believed in his client’s innocence and watching his client be carted off to prison devastated him. He reeled in shock and what he believed to be his failure. Hoping justice would come to his client on appeal, Robert made sure the best appellate lawyer was retained, and Robert and his client still keep in touch.
A graduate from Harvard Law School in 1977, Robert joined WACDL shortly after relocating to Washington state in 2004. He served on the WACDL Board of Governors, the Court Rules and Diversity Committees, and taught innumerable WACDL sponsored continuing legal education programs. He has made significant contributions to the broader community by appearing as a guest columnist in the Seattle Times, co-authoring a book, and serving on the WSBA Character and Fitness Committee.

President’s Awards

Amy Muth, Jason Schwarz and Emily Gause have each received a WACDL President’s Award. The award recognizes “achievement in a particular case or series of related cases, or long-time service to the criminal defense bar.”
A person wearing a suit and tie smiling at the cameraDescription automatically generatedAmy Muth (Seattle) and Jason Schwarz (Everett) were instrumental in convening a task force to address the management of criminal court operations during the COVID-19 crisis. Over an extremely short period of time, the task force sought input from a broad criminal defense coalition with geographical and practice diversity and with our allied organizations. Within 48 hours, the task force was able to collaborate with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (WAPA) to present an agreed order to the Washington State Supreme Court that the Court adopted. As a result, people no longer must choose between their health and going to court, and jail populations are down significantly.  The work of the task force is ongoing, and the task force leaders are committed to advocating for our community and clients throughout the crisis. 

Amy Muth’s practice focuses on representation of adult sex offenses and youthful offender cases, and recently expanded to include all juvenile offense. She is a Past President of WACDL, a proud member of the ACLU Legal Committee, and a Seattle Clemency Project volunteer attorney for sex offenders seeking clemency. She is a 2001 graduate of Ohio State University College of Law.

Jason Schwarz is the Director of the Snohomish County Office of Public Defense. He is a graduate of Seattle University School of Law and spent 13 years as a trial lawyer at the Snohomish County Public Defender Association where he handled every kind of criminal and civil cases handled by public defenders. He was the driving force behind Snohomish County’s Mental Health Court and is currently working with criminal court stakeholders to develop local resources for persons with mental health issues charged with a crime. 

Emily Gause (Seattle) has enthusiastically taken the lead in a variety of volunteer roles at WACDL to not only improve the organization, but also, critically, to carry out its mission to improve the administration of justice. Co-chair of WACDL’s Court Rules Committee since 2016, she guided WACDL’s development and submission of a package of proposed court rule changes to the Washington Supreme Court Rules Committee. Most notably, Emily identified the lack of any uniform system to track determinations of misconduct by police officers that would adversely affect their credibility as witnesses. With that, the WACDL Brady List Database arose, and Emily played a pivotal role in its implementation. She has also co-chaired WACDL’s holiday party and has served on its Board of Governors since 2019. More recently, she contributed to WACDL’s response to COVID-19, as a member of the COVID-19 Task Force in its initial stages to propose a court closure order, and also as a co-chair for a continuing legal education webinar, “COVID-19: Resources and Tips for Your Trial Practice.”
Emily Gause’s practice focuses on felony criminal defense in state and federal courts throughout Washington. She began her legal career working with John Henry Browne, where she developed a practice of defending high-profile felonies. During law school, she spent a year in the juvenile unit at Northwest Defenders Association and as a Rule 9 law clerk for the Attorney General’s Office. In November 2014, she launched her own practice in Seattle.

Anthony Savage Award

A person wearing glasses and smiling at the cameraDescription automatically generatedChristina Phelan (is the recipient of WACDL’s Anthony Savage Award. The award recognizes an outstanding trial performance or result achieved by an attorney in practice for less than ten years.
Last year, Christina was appointed to represent a 15-year-old was charged with attempted murder and assault in the first degree. The State filed a motion to decline, seeking to try him as an adult, citing the fact that he was dangerous. Making the case exceedingly difficult was the fact that Christina’s client had confessed to the crime.
Christina was provided with thousands of pages in discovery. Her client had not only admitted to this attempted murder but had also admitted to a west coast crime spree that included murder and robbery in three states, as well as to dealing in drugs and guns. Christina's sharp eye noticed that the cell phone and other social media records on the day of the incident did not seem to line up with her client’s admissions. She then began to dig and realized that by using cell tower records, other location data, and school records, her client could not have realistically committed this crime as he was two to three hours away from the alleged attempted murder. She then dug further and realized that many of the crimes he admitted to had never happened. It became clear he falsely confessed to many crimes. Despite this concrete evidence, the prosecutor’s office refused to dismiss the case.
The ensuing investigation was a knock down drag out affair. The State argued multiple times that defense should not be allowed to present fact or law enforcement witnesses during the decline hearing, arguing that the hearing itself should be a “mini-trial.” Christina eventually succeeded in convincing the assigned judge that the court would be doing a disservice to the youth and the system if it did not allow a full hearing with witnesses and evidence that he did not commit the offense. The result was a full evidentiary hearing discussing the legitimacy of the charges in addition to the Kent factors normally analyzed at a decline hearing. The assigned judge eventually decided to maintain juvenile jurisdiction of the client’s case. The state eventually dismissed the attempted murder case as part of a plea bargain with the less serious juvenile cases the client was facing. Christina’s tenacity and hard-fought battle make her deserving of the Savage Award.
Christina Phelan was born and raised in Vancouver, Washington. She attended law school at Boston University School of Law, graduating cum laude in May 2012. During law school, Christina worked as an intern for the Honorable R. Gary Klausner, federal district court judge for the Central District of California, and for the Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Practice in Brooklyn, NY. Upon graduating, Christina went to work with her father at the Phelan Law Office PLLC, where she has practiced juvenile and adult criminal defense. Since 2019, she has served as the defense attorney for the Clark County Juvenile Recovery Court. Christina is actively involved in the Clark County legal community. She is currently a Trustee on the Clark County Bar Association Board and spent many years serving on the boards of both the Clark County Inns of Court chapter and the Clark County Young Lawyers Section."

Champion of Justice Award

A team of attorneys with Columbia Legal Services (CLS) has received the 2020 Champion of Justice award. The CLS team sued to force Governor Jay Inslee to release people incarcerated by the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) before COVID-19 sickened and killed many of them.
Although the Supreme Court rejected the CLS petition in a 5:4 vote, the litigation was extraordinary. Based on an emergency motion that CLS filed on April 9, 2020, the litigation forced DOC on an interim basis to justify what it was doing to try to ameliorate the pandemic inside Washington’s prisons and forced DOC to announce the release of over 1000 prisoners. The lawsuit undoubtedly has saved many lives and prevented many people from getting sick.
The lawsuit was put together on an expedited basis, with the case being argued within a month of it being filed. CLS rose to the occasion during a time of crisis.
The Champion of Justice award recognizes a legislative, judicial, journalistic or humanitarian pursuit that has staunchly preserved or defended the constitutional rights of Washington residents and endeavored to ensure justice and due process for those accused of crime. The attorneys who contributed to the suit are Nick Allen, Travis Andrews, Alex Bergstrom, Ali Bilow, Julia Bladin, Cheli Bueno, Janet Chung, Merf Ehman, Antonio Ginatta, Tony Gonzalez, Kim Gunning, Adriana Hernandez, Lori Isley, Maureen Janega, Bonnie Linville, Charlie McAteer, Rachael Pashkowski, Cheryl Seelhoff, Laurel Simonso, Brandy Sincyr, Nick Straley, and Hannah Woerner.

The Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was formed to improve the quality and administration of justice. WACDL’s members — private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, and related professionals — are committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.
For more information about WACDL or WACDL’s awards, please contact Fred Rice, Program Coordinator at fred.rice@wacdl.org or 206-623-1302