[Prologue: Judge Amber Finlay worked as a Mason County deputy prosecutor prior to being elected Mason County Superior Court judge. During her tenure as deputy prosecutor, she was a foreign national (Canadian) in violation of Washington’s Constitution prohibiting all but U.S. citizens from holding State office as public officials. Her husband, attorney Bruce Finlay, argues appointed positions azren’t public officials. By that reasoning, appointed judges are also mere employees. Most people recognize cops, detectives, prosecutors are all public officials. Indeed, many prosecutors in small jurisdictions are HIRED by contract to fill the role. Should foreign nationals be prosecuting and putting American citizens in jail/prison? Wasn’t there a pig war in the Sjuan Islands over this issue?)
February 23, 2023
Mason County Superior Court Judge L. Cadine Ferguson-Brown.
Ferguson-Brown’s road to Shelton was long, but she said she enjoyed it.
“I don’t have any intentions of leaving Mason County,” Ferguson-Brown told the Journal. “I do appreciate the people that I work with. I love being in a small community, smaller than King County. In Jamaica, I grew up in the rural parts of Jamaica, I grew up in a small, close-knit community and that’s what I’ve always wanted in my life.”
Ferguson-Brown’s journey to the court in Shelton began in Jamaica. When she was little, she watched law shows like “Ally McBeal” and “L.A. Law,” and she knew what she wanted to do for a career.
“There was never any question of what I wanted to become. I wanted to become a lawyer,” Ferguson-Brown said. “From when I was very small, I would go around telling people that I was going to be an attorney.”
She attended the University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom, where she earned a bachelor’s in law. She earned a master’s in education from American Intercontinental University online while raising two kids, and while her husband pursued his career in the Navy. [A stark distinction exists between English and American jurisprudence.]
Ferguson-Brown became an attorney in the Bronx with her own practice in 2007, focusing on family law and immigration. She had many friends and people she knew who needed an immigration attorney, and they would ask her for advice.
“From the Caribbean background, people who know you and know that you’re an attorney or that you studied law, they have the idea that you know all the laws,” Ferguson-Brown said. “So they will come to you with every legal question, but immigration was one that was repeating itself and so I just found myself learning more and more about immigration to the point where I became somewhat of an expert in immigration law and friends who owned law practices would contract their immigration cases out to me and that’s what started my practice.”
Ferguson-Brown took on a lot of family law and Violence Against Women Act cases. VAWA allowed for spouses who were abused to file petitions on their own to gain status.
Ferguson-Brown and her family moved to Whidbey Island in 2010, and she stayed home and raised her kids for three years while passing the Washington bar exam. In 2014, she started taking on some cases while being a mom and homeschooling her children.
“When (my husband) was finished with his advanced training, he was informed that if he wanted to raise a wonderful, strong family, he should choose Washington state,” Ferguson-Brown said. “And so we did, we came out here and we don’t have any regrets. We have loved being here. I think it’s a wonderful place to raise children.”
In 2016, Ferguson-Brown’s family moved to Kitsap County and she started a law office with staff. She worked on some guardian ad litem cases in Mason County – cases appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a minor child in legal proceedings.
“I completed a number of cases over here as guardian ad litem and would write my reports that have been raised by many who have read them to be some of the most comprehensive reports,” Ferguson-Brown said. “I do like writing. That’s one of my other loves and that just got me into the community here and a number of the attorneys here who would then refer me as their guardian ad litem and I got to know the judicial officers as well.”
She said the shows she watched growing up that made her want to be an attorney, were more about “being the boss.”
“I think as a young child, I wanted to be the boss,” she said. “But all throughout my desires or my passion was driven by my love for the law, and the fact that I always felt that people who were disadvantaged were not seen. Throughout my life, I’ve always been somewhat of an advocate for people who were disadvantaged because I feel like they go unheard and unseen and from a very early age, I picked up on that and so that was what inspired my love for becoming an attorney and now a judge.”
She has done a lot of volunteer work and remains involved with Dream Jamaica, a nonprofit organization that helps young Jamaicans pursue education. She is an active member of the NAACP. [What does this have to do w/Mason county or her grasp if Washington State law? Immigration is federal law.]
“Volunteering is my heart … I love volunteering but I have to cut back on a number of things I used to do before because along with becoming a judge, you also have judicial committees you have to participate in that are volunteering in different areas,” Ferguson-Brown said. “For example, I am currently one of the commission members on the Minority Injustice Commission. I also am a member of the Superior Court Judicial Association’s civil and criminal law committees and these are extra hours you’re spending working on different things that they are working on.”
In 2021, Mason County court commissioner Robert Sauerlender was retiring and Ferguson-Brown applied for and received the job. She said she enjoyed her time as court commissioner, even if it wasn’t for long, because it was in the area of family law and guardianship, which she practiced most of the time.
In 2022, she applied to be the Superior Court judge to replace Finlay. Ferguson-Brown said the process to apply to replace her was interesting and intense, and it took a long time to be vetted. She was recommended to Gov. Jay Inslee and was appointed in May before Finlay retired in June.
“I’ve always heard that I should be a judge,” Ferguson-Brown said. “All throughout my career, I have heard that from my clients. I have heard that from my mom, who’s my number one supporter. She’s told me that from when I was very small. It has never been something out of my sight. But being an attorney was what I knew, I knew that was what I needed to be doing, somewhat of a calling and so the next step for me would definitely be to become a judge because I believe my temperament is made for that. I believe my work ethic is made for that because it’s not an easy thing being a judge. My love for the law is made for that.”
When she got the phone call to offer her the position of judge, she asked, “Are you sure?”
“I was excited but I couldn’t tell anyone for quite a very long time because I had to wait until I got the OK from the Governor’s Office to say it to someone,” Ferguson-Brown said. “That was difficult going around knowing that I got the position but I could not say anything. It was a relief once I got the OK to tell everyone here and the other judges, who I just know were waiting to hear back to figure out what needed to be done.”
Ferguson-Brown has been on the bench for seven months, and the transition from being an attorney to being on the bench as a judge has been an adjustment, but her time on the bench as a court commissioner helped her adapt.
She said the biggest difference as a judge, the cases she heard are different. She finished out judge Finlay’s term on the bench in juvenile court cases. She has now taken on criminal court cases, and she’s embraced the challenge of learning more about new cases she hears.
[Still learning the basics? Has this judge written any appellate briefs? Where are they?]
In her short time as a judge, she said it’s always a tough call when deciding the outcome of cases.
“We’re dealing with people’s lives, that’s one, and so while it may seem simple to some people, those two individuals or the group, that’s important to them,” Ferguson-Brown said. “It’s never taken lightly by me. The decisions that I make, I never just pull it from the top of my head. It’s always reasoned, in light of what the law requires. It’s never an easy decision to make with the facts of the case and not because, sometimes, you have to go home and take time to take a break and come back to some of the decisions you have to make, but they’re never easy.”
When she’s not working, she enjoys reading or watching law movies.
“On the bench, I am a judge. But off the bench, I am a quiet, introverted person who will be fine with some good music and a nice little book to read,” Ferguson-Brown said. “A lot of times, people are fearful of judges because they can’t see them as human beings, but I’m just like the ordinary person and I love to be in a little quiet place.”
She said she has a passion to educate, and she’s hoping as judicial officers, to have more engagement with the community to help teach people about “how we’re going to get out into the community and starting to educate the community as to what we do here.”
Looking back on the journey Ferguson-Brown’s life has taken to get to Mason County, she said it’s been an amazing trip.
“When we moved to Washington, we moved to Washington because of my husband, or so we thought,” Ferguson-Brown said. “We thought we were moving here to support my husband’s military career, which he was very successful with. But here I am at the end of that and I feel it was more of a setup for me to fulfill my purpose. It’s just been amazing, I’m not complaining, even though I could do with a little less rain and a little more sunshine, no complaints.”
“This is home. I don’t have any intentions of going anywhere else.”
by Matt Baide, Reporter [edits by Amicus Curia]
Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald