Former Clark County District Court Judge Fred J. Stoker, who served on the bench for 24 years, died last month. He was 85.
Stoker, then 43, was appointed to the bench in May 1974, filling the vacancy left by Judge C. Dean LaRowe, who had died in April of that year. He beat out three other candidates for the appointment.
According to a June 4, 1974, story in The Columbian, Stoker said “Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Learned Hand and Benjamin Cardozo were inspirational models to him as he pursued his career in law.”
“Knowledge of the law is like a deep well out of which each man draweth according to the depth of his understanding,” Stoker said at his swearing-in ceremony, quoting Sir Edward Cooke, a noted English jurist.
Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman served with Stoker for 12 years.
“Fred was a very nice man,” he said in a phone message Wednesday. “I would call him sort of the fatherly figure at that time of the court. I remember him in his cardigan sweaters, smoking his pipe in his office.” He added that Stoker would sometimes sneak out onto the courthouse balcony, until alarms were installed.
Stoker grew up in Omaha, Neb., and after high school joined the U.S. Coast Guard. He later attended college in Colorado and moved to Chicago to work for an insurance company, according to a paid obituary notice in Sunday’s Columbian.
He worked as an insurance adjuster from 1955 to 1961, and during that time, dealt with many lawyers, his son, Mark Stoker, said in an email Wednesday. Fred Stoker studied law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago and was admitted to the Illinois and Nebraska bar associations in 1960.
“I think he just decided it would be a good and noble profession, so he continued to work while he went to law school in the evenings,” said Stoker, who’s also a lawyer.
Fred Stoker went into private practice in 1962 at a law firm in Omaha, where he worked for seven years. During that time, he visited Washington to complete some depositions for the firm, and when it disbanded, the family decided to move to Vancouver, according to Columbian archives.
Stoker was an attorney for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Portland from 1969 to 1970. He was then hired at the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and served as chief deputy prosecutor. Stoker resigned the position when he was appointed to the bench.
While on the bench, Stoker handled traffic cases and misdemeanor criminal offenses, as well as civil suits and small claims.
“As a judge, he loved presiding over weddings and giving people a great start in life. The last wedding he did was for my son in 2012,” Mark Stoker said, adding that his dad “had a deep curiosity for all things. He spent a great deal of time reading and researching to satisfy that curiosity, even in his later years.”
Roger Bennett, Battle Ground Municipal Court judge and a retired Clark County Superior Court judge, said he tried some of his first drunken-driving cases in front of Fred Stoker. He also once considered running against him, according to Columbian archives.
“I thought he was extremely fair. He literally was more concerned with treating people with respect and getting a result that was fair and appropriate in a case. He didn’t let the legal technicalities get in the way. I think everyone who went in front of him got a real and honest, legitimate result in their case,” Bennett said Wednesday. “He was just a very kind person, but he was also very concerned with the safety of the community.”
Stoker retired from the bench in 1998.
“When he retired, it was a great loss to the legal community, and his death is a great loss to the community as a whole,” Bennett said.
Mark Stoker described his dad as a “deeply spiritual man; a devout Lutheran (as devout as a Lutheran can be).”
“He was a kind and generous man; always willing to help his children, a neighbor or a friend. He was a great father and grandfather. A wonderful role model. He assisted in Boy Scouts and went on many camp-outs and hikes, including a 50-miler,” Mark Stoker said. “He seldom missed a soccer game for his grandchildren, whether club or school. He was very proud of his grandchildren and great grandchildren. We once asked him and mom to watch our three young children while we went on a short trip. Without hesitation, they said they would, and took them to Disney World!”
Fred Stoker is survived by his wife of 62 years, Frances; twin sister, Kathleen; four children and their spouses: Mark (Cynthia), Bruce (Debbie), Eric (Beth), and Nora; his eight grandchildren; and five great-granddaughters.
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. July 13 at Immanuel Lutheran Church.