Born: Sunday, January 11th, 1925
Died: Friday, April 4th, 2008
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington
Education: University of Washington, B.A. (1949)
University of Washington, J.D. (1952)
Career: U.S. Army
Assistant Attorney General (1952)
Law Clerk (1953)
Deputy Prosecutor (1954-1956)
Superior Court (1969-1972)
Court of Appeals (1972-1984)
Served: Saturday, January 5th, 1985 to Monday, January 14th, 1991
Chief Justice: Monday, January 9th, 1989 to Monday, January 14th, 1991
Political Party: Republican
Appointing Governor: Spellman (Republican)Although the historical record indicates the governor initially appointed Justice Keith Callow to the state’s court of last resort, his selection followed a hard-fought election campaign for the seat. He was appointed on January 2, 1985 to fill the twelve-day vacancy caused by Justice Hugh Rosellini’s death, and he began his elected six-year term on January 14. He started twelve days early for two reasons. The sooner he arrived at the Temple of Justice, the sooner he could help with the court’s backlog. And accepting the short-term appointment gave him seniority over Justice William Goodloe, also elected for a full term in 1984.
Justice Callow unsuccessfully campaigned two prior times for the supreme court. In 1976 he lost to former Congressman Floyd Hicks in the primary. Similarly, in 1978 Callow ran behind William Williams and Francis Holman. In all his races, Callow had overwhelming support from the Washington and Seattle-King County bar associations. He also ran well-financed campaigns. He spent $30,105 in 1976; $44,038 in 1978; and $114,688 in the 1984 winning effort against Edward Heavey, who set the record for a supreme court race by spending $139,971.
Callow learned much from his two early runs for the court: how to raise funds, use television, and get his name before voters. He began his last campaign two years before the 1984 election, introducing himself around the state, gaining pledges of support and funding, accepting speaking engagements, and gaining press coverage. Former clients-including insurance companies and businesses-as well as law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and leaders in the bar all encouraged him to run. But, as he observed, despite support from an impressive list of notables, “you still need the energy and desire yourself. You can’t do it unless you want to.” Callow’s motivations for going through three exhausting campaigns can be simply stated: he wanted to sit on the state’s high court.
But he was not without a program. One issue Callow emphasized in all his campaigns was the judicial system’s backlog. The problem of congestion, which he confronted as chief judge of the court of appeals, called for action. He also believed justices should write more concise opinions to provide precise guidelines to lower courts and lawyers. He was concerned about how decisions were implemented by the high court. He was sensitive to the need for striking a proper balance between the rights of the accused and victims. “You don’t want to have a police state … in which people are not treated respectfully and civilly by law enforcement officers,” he wrote, but courts must foster an atmosphere that allows the “police to do their work.”
Justice Callow was a restraintist, concerned with the court’s law-making tendencies: “When the legislature sets forth law in [a] plain and understandable way it is not for the judge to say, ‘I know better,’ or to second guess the legislature. You’ve got to follow what the legislature says.”
If the legislature does not anticipate a problem, or if situations change, a judge should be an interpreter and “to a great extent follow what the legislative intent was.” If the law does not cover the occasion, then the judge turns to the common law–judge-made law. Here and only here, according to the justice, can a jurist change the law, since judges made it in the first place.
Callow was concerned with unanimity on the bench. He took extensive notes on conference discussions and debates in order “to have a feel for what the court is saying as a consensus.” Thus, the justice adopted a collective approach to deliberations:
I try to be a person who senses what the appropriate consensus is and why it is there … and if it’s a matter of principle once in a while I would … maybe add a little individualism there but I’ll still work … [with the others].
His view of dissent supported his consensus approach. Even if a justice has questions about the majority opinion, he or she must “subvert … pride and look for unison.” The authority of the court depends upon as little factionalism as possible. Callow’s dissent rate indicates that he practiced what he advocated. He wrote only eleven dissents from 1985-1988, below the court average of nineteen, and voted with other dissenters twenty-three times, again below the court average of twenty-nine. “Squabbling people who can’t make up their minds” detract from the public image of the supreme court, Callow asserted.
Another indication of Callow’s effort to reach consensus was his “swing vote” record. He ranked third on the court in terms of supplying the crucial swing vote that often made the difference between an opinion becoming the majority or remaining the minority view.
During his campaigns Callow reminded his audiences that judges could not discuss many interesting aspects of the law for fear of violating the Judicial Canons. However, he readily talked about his restraintist perspective of the law and judging. His favorite speech, entitled “Humor in the Courts,” poked fun at himself, the judiciary, and the legal profession generally. Apart from being an attractive campaign speech, this approach reflected the justice’s personality. His sense of humor could be counted on to lighten otherwise solemn occasions. This trait stood him in good stead on the court, in conference, and in informal associations with the other judges. His ability to achieve consensus may in part be attributed to his personality.
Justice Callow was born in Seattle on January 11, 1925, the second son of Russell and Dollie Callow. His father farmed near Little Skookum Creek in western Washington where his family had settled in the 1890s. Russell “Rusty” Callow graduated from the University of Washington in 1916 where he rowed on the university crew team and served as student body president. In 1922, the University of Washington hired him as crew coach. He moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1927 and then in 1950 to the U. S. Naval Academy, where he coached the winning crew at the 1952 Olympics. Keith Callow’s mother, Dollie, had taught school at Chehalis before marriage.
Keith graduated from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia in 1943, was drafted, and went to a special training program for engineering officers at New York’s Alfred University and at the City College of New York. When the program phased out, the army assigned Callow to the Seventy-fifth Infantry Division for combat in Europe. After discharge with a purple heart citation, Callow enrolled in Biarritz American University. As a sophomore he returned to the University of Washington, majoring in business and English. In 1949 he, with his brother Gordon, began law school at the university. Callow graduated in 1952 with law review honors.
His first law job was with Washington Attorney General Smith Troy. After six months, Justice Matt Hill of the state supreme court hired him as a law clerk. From 1954 through 1956 Callow served as deputy prosecutor under Charles O. Carroll in King County. Next, the future judge joined Little, LeSourd, Palmer, Scott, and Slemmons, the third largest law firm in Seattle. In 1962 he formed his own partnership with Ed Taylor, a firm later known as Barker, Day, Callow, and Taylor, where he remained until his appointment to the superior court in 1969. Among his clients were insurance companies, credit unions, and other businesses. He handled personal injury cases and did probate and trial work.
Justice Callow’s family actively engaged in politics. An uncle had been a legislator; a great uncle was mayor of Charleston, near Bremerton. Callow’s father served as sergeant-at-arms at the 1940 Republican national convention. But Keith showed little interest in politics until he joined the staff of King County Prosecutor Carroll, who urged all of his deputies to become involved in Republican politics. Callow became a precinct committeeman, co-leader of the Forty-sixth District Republicans, and president of the Young Men’s Republican Club. Nonetheless, the practice of law remained his main concern; politics were clearly secondary.
He did not know Governor Dan Evans well, but attended law school and later served on the supreme court with the governor’s administrative assistant, James Dolliver. Dolliver advised the governor on judicial appointments and brought Callow to his attention. After seventeen years of private practice, Callow was ready to consider a career change and accepted an appointment to the King County Superior Court in 1969. In 1972 Evans appointed him to the Washington Court of Appeals, Division One, in Seattle. In 1974 he easily turned back the challenge of Marie Donohue in the September primary election to remain in that post.
He married Evelyn Ann Case from Waterville, Washington-whom he had met at the University of Washington-just before he began law school. They had three children. The justice actively participated in both Girl and Boy Scout programs and the Evergreen Safety Council, receiving the Council’s Governor’s Award “for outstanding public service in the field of accident prevention.” In recognition of his service on both the trial and appellate benches, the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association awarded him the Brandeis Judge of the Year honor in 1984. He co-founded the Council of Chief Judges of Courts of Appeal, a national organization devoted to studying problems of court backlog and appellate reform, and remains active in American Bar Association affairs.
In January 1989, he assumed the responsibilities of chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court. During his two years as the judiciary’s administrative head he worked to unify the bench, to preserve an independent judiciary, and to reduce the backlog in trial courts. Although little evidence suggests that consensus on the high bench increased during his tenure as chief justice, Callow moved forward on trial court reform. For example, soon after assuming his responsibilities as chief, he appointed a special task force to study and recommend remedies for attacking the state’s overburdened superior courts. In recognition of his interests, U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist appointed Callow to a fifteen-member federal courts study commission, the only state judge to receive an appointment.
Because of time constraints, some minor health problems, and an assumption he would easily win reelection, Callow chose to focus on his many court and administrative responsibilities rather than campaigning against his challenger in the September 18, 1990 primary election. Charles W. Johnson, a thirty-nine year old Gig Harbor lawyer paid the $893 filing fee, spent less than that on a few campaign materials, and avoided virtually all opportunities to inform voters of his qualifications. To everyone’s surprise-including his own-he became only the second person in the state’s 100 years to defeat an incumbent chief justice (James B. Reavis had defeated John P. Hoyt in 1896), and one of only twelve to successfully challenge incumbents.
In retrospect, Callow’s defeat can be attributed to three factors. First, he, as others, failed to take Johnson’s challenge seriously, and consequently did not campaign actively. Second, the news media, after heavily endorsing Callow, failed to draw out either candidate and inform voters of their qualifications. Third, with virtually no information to guide them, voters had to rely on name recognition. Consequently, they may have confused Charles W. Johnson, little-known candidate for the supreme court, with Charles Johnson, a popular television news anchor at Tacoma’s KSTW, the only statewide TV channel; or with Charles V. Johnson, a respected presiding judge of the King County Superior Court. After twenty-one years as a member of the state’s judiciary, Keith Callow retired his black robe. But he did not give up his judicial activities. He remained a leader in court reform at the national level, and in January 1991 he joined Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, serving as a mediator and arbitrator.
Callow’s oral history is in the supreme court collection, Washington State Archives. Also see Seattle-King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin (Nov. 1984), p. 6 and Mar. 1989, p. 1; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 24 Oct. 1984 and 2 Apr. 1989; Seattle Times, 9 Jan. 1989; and Washington State Bar News (Jan. 1990), pp. 19-23 and Je. 1990, pp. 40-41.
The preceding biography is from Charles Sheldon's The Washington High Bench: A Biographical History of the State Supreme Court, 1889-1991, © 1992 by the Board of Regents of Washington State University. Reprinted here with permission and licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by The Temple of Justice Project.