Hawkins retiring as district court judge

Island County District Court Judge Bill Hawkins will leave behind a remarkable legal legacy.

Island County District Court Judge Bill Hawkins will leave behind a remarkably comprehensive legal legacy on Whidbey Island.

He’s been a deputy prosecutor, the elected Island County prosecutor, the Oak Harbor city attorney and city prosecutor and a private civil attorney before being appointed in 2013 as district court judge. He was then elected three times to the bench.

Hawkins, who is 68 years old, announced this week that he plans to retire. His resignation is effective May 31.

Hawkins explained in an email that he and his wife Belinda, who is a nurse, are retiring on the same day, which happens to be her birthday.

“As any good husband should, it is I who am following her lead,” he wrote. “Travel, time with grandkids, hobbies, exercise, good food and life after a career.”

Island County commissioners will appoint Hawkins’ replacement to begin serving on June 1. Because of the timing of his resignation, the appointed district court judge will serve on the bench until the general election in November 2026.

Hawkins is leaving after the regular filing period for candidates, which means the position can’t be on the November ballot. In addition, replacement elections for district court judge vacancies are not allowed to occur in odd-numbered years, which means it will have to wait until 2026.

During an application period outlined in an upcoming public notice, the commissioners will be seeking qualified candidates. To be eligible, applicants must be registered voters in Island County and allowed to practice law in Washington state.

In a letter to the editor in this edition, Hawkins thanked his colleagues, Island County commissioners, district court staff and his wife. He wrote about how district court — which hears misdemeanor cases — affects people in a very personal way and requires personal interaction.

“We see people under the stress of litigation, many here involuntarily, often at a low point in their lives,” he wrote. “I am proud of this court and the many ways it serves those in need, be they victims of crime, victims of their own addiction, or those struggling with issues of physical or mental health. My goals have been that all find a receptive ear and leave feeling they have been heard, that judicial decisions are made based on the facts and the law, without favor, bias or an agenda, and that the public can remain confident in the integrity of the bench.”

According to Whidbey News-Times articles over the years, Hawkins worked as a deputy prosecutor for 16 years before becoming the elected prosecutor from 1991 to 1998. He then opened his own law office in Oak Harbor and returned to government work after ten years. In 2009, he was hired by the city of Oak Harbor to be the law and justice coordinator / prosecutor.

Then in 2013, Hawkins was appointed to replace longtime District Court Judge Peter Strow.

Hawkins recalled that Strow said at the time that the job was hardly enjoyable and that anyone who did enjoy it shouldn’t be on the bench.

“I know just what he meant. Many parts of the job are difficult and even unpleasant,” he wrote. “We see folks who need a major course correction, and if that is what is called for it is what we have to do. That part of the job never gets any easier.”

“At the same time,” he added,” “many other parts of the job are rewarding and enjoyable. For a lot of other folks who appear in court, the lightest touch goes the longest way. In all cases, I have found that making personal contact with everyone is an important part of making them feel like they have been heard, comfortable with the process, relaxed and then able to concentrate more on what it is they can do to better their situation. That interactive part is satisfying. It helps to know the community and to like people. There is good in almost everyone. You just have to look for it.”