Incumbent David Mistachkin has been a Grays Harbor District Court judge for 19 months since his appointment in 2014 by the Grays Harbor commissioners, taking the bench on Jan. 2, 2015. He has his sights set on remaining a District Court judge.
The Oregon native graduated from Willamette University College of Law in 2003 and worked for about 11 years as a criminal defense attorney at the Aberdeen law firm of Ingram, Zelasko and Goodwin until his appointment to the bench.
Mistachkin said that from a young age he knew he wanted to be a lawyer and in high school decided to be a criminal defense attorney. Even before his graduation from law school, Mistachkin practiced law on a limited basis as an intern and defended clients in a number of trials over a year-long period.
In addition to the “steady diet” of criminal defense work in Aberdeen, Mistachkin also took on civil, family law and personal injury cases. He had also served as a pro tem judge in almost every Municipal Court in Grays Harbor and Thurston County and Grays Harbor district courts prior to his appointment.
“The combination of all my defense experience, plus pro temming, I felt like I knew the job coming into it. There wasn’t a very long transition period. I was already very comfortable doing the job from day one,” Mistachkin said.
Mistachkin said ensuring defendants understand the legal process is a priority for him as a District Court judge.
“Comprehension, in a word. That’s a priority. I want to make sure the defendants understand the process and what is happening in their case because that promotes faith in the administration of justice,” Mistachkin said. “Secondary to that, I bend over backwards to be fair. So, I have to follow the law, that’s a given. There’s no cookie-cutter — and there’s no one size fits all. I do case-by-case decisions. I do decisions based on the merits of each individual case.”
Driving while license suspended, DUIs and domestic violence cases make up a majority of the case load, but Mistachkin said those types of situations are not unique to Grays Harbor County. Mistachkin said there are mechanisms within the court system, such as deferred prosecution and mitigation that may help incentivize people from reoffending.
“We can only do what statutes specifically give us authority to do, whereas Superior Court has broader discretion. But within that, I try to fashion sentences that will be most effective in preventing people from being repeat offenders. I try to incentivize them to comply — not just with law-abiding behavior but to address whatever the underlying issue may be,” Mistachkin said.
“I loved being a defense attorney and I was very passionate about representing parties. But I can do more as a judge,” Mistachkin said. “I can represent the best interest of justice — no matter what that means. As judge, you get to be neutral and do the right thing. Ironically, that’s my campaign slogan. I believe in that. I do more good as a judge. I feel very good about it.”
To be a good judge requires patience, Mistachkin said. “Treating all parties with respect, following the law and treating everyone equally and with impartiality,” Mistachkin said. “Impartiality — that’s the cornerstone of what we do.”
Now 38, Mistachkin was 36 years old when appointed. “I think being young is an advantage, quite frankly. The reality is, being a judge is very mentally exhausting and as a result it can correlate to physical fatigue,” Mistachkin said. “Being young and having the stamina that I have — I still have the passion and still have the energy. I’m very committed to the job.”
Mistachkin lives in Central Park with his wife and three children. He helps coach soccer and is a board member for Habitat for Humanity.