For more than 40 years, Waldo Stone was a fair judge who explained his decisions and knew how to keep a serious job in perspective, colleagues said Friday.
He was thoughtful and kind on the bench, co-workers remembered, once was punched by a defendant and surreptitiously listened to a football game during a judges retreat.
They learned this week that Stone, who finished his career as a Pierce County Superior Court judge, died Wednesday of what they understood were natural causes. He was 93.
Stone served on the Superior Court bench from 1973 until 1997, and former Prosecutor John Ladenburg said the judge presided over several controversial homicide trials, including death penalty cases.
That included one of the highly publicized St. Pierre murder trials over a 1984 homicide in which a man was fatally shot and his severed head encased in concrete and thrown into the Puyallup River.
“Everyone was watching,” Ladenburg said of the trial. “The judge is on display, and if he can’t do the right thing and make it clear to everyone that he’s in charge in the courtroom, all these other lawyers are going to know right away.”
Stone handled the case fairly, as he did his other cases, Ladenburg said.
Off the bench, peers remembered Stone as a big University of Washington fan, who brought a transistor radio to a judges retreat to listen to a Huskies game.
“We’re sitting in the meeting, working out our problems and issues,” retired Judge Thomas Felnagle said. “There’s kind of a quiet moment, and all of the sudden there’s this big scream and clapping.”
And the other judges burst out laughing.
Stone graduated from the UW in 1949, and in 1953 he was appointed as a justice of the peace, what today is a District Court judge. From 1964 to 1972, he was on the Tacoma Municipal Court bench and then elected to the Superior Court in 1972.
He served there until his retirement in 1997, and after that on a pro-tem basis.
Colleagues said he rode his bike to work daily, sometimes in the dark and the rain, and played volleyball at the YMCA in downtown Tacoma at lunch.
Stone had a good sense of humor, they remembered, including in the 1990s when a defendant punched him after a jury returned a guilty verdict.
“He adjourned the court, he’s going from the bench to the door to his chambers, and the defendant runs at him and punches him and broke his glasses,” retired Judge Frederick Hayes said.
“Waldo was very upbeat about it. Thought it was pretty funny, actually.”
Retired Judge Vicki Hogan remembered Stone as humorous, but protective of new judges.
She had a problem with an attorney when she was new on the bench, and when it came up in conversation, Stone told her: “I’ll take care of this.”
He reported the attorney’s apparent drug addiction to the state bar association.
She said Stone was a hard worker who helped found the West Tacoma Optimist Club in 1956, a service group similar to a Rotary club, and had perfect attendance at meetings for more than 50 years. Then he helped start a branch on the Hilltop in the early 1990s.
He was compassionate, Hogan said, and had a calm and steady demeanor, and rarely raised his voice.
“He was kind in his decision-making, even though he was stern and followed the law,” she said. “He had a nice way of saying, ‘You’re sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.’ ”
Retired Judge Ronald Culpepper remembered Stone was caring in a case, some 30 years ago, in which a young woman in Yakima asked that her Pierce County case be moved there.
Stone agreed, pointing out that the woman had young children, and would have had to drive over the mountains in the winter with them if the case stayed in Tacoma.
“He came up with that on his own, and I thought it showed good insight and concern for her and her kids,” Culpepper said. “... I wish I had thought of that.”
Stone was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Norma Gjertsen Stone.
According to her Sept. 13, 2015, obituary in The News Tribune: “Even after five decades of marriage, Norma and Waldo were often seen walking together and holding hands, and enjoying the occasional ‘smooch.’ ”
He loved listening to her play the piano, and they liked biking together, the write-up said.
“These weren’t little neighborhood rides; they could leave the house and end up in Victoria — no car involved,” according to the obituary.