In celebration of Veterans Day, Judge Ronald Cox of the Washington State Court of Appeals was kind enough to allow me to interview him regard- ing his experiences in the military
and its impact on his legal career.
Judge Cox took his oath of office as a
judge on the Washington State Court of
Appeals in January 1995, following his
election to an open position on that court.
He has served a term as the presiding
chief judge of the entire court. He also
served a term as Chief Judge of Division
One of the court, which is headquartered
in Seattle. Prior to becoming a judge,
he worked in a Seattle law firm. Cox is a
graduate of the University of Washington
School of Law and the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Following successful completion of ranger and airborne training after graduation
from West Point, he served in a succession of command, staff, and instructor assignments in Germany, Vietnam, and the
United States. He holds various awards
and decorations for his military service.
Why did you go into the military?
I grew up in Hawaii, where my home was
located in the foothills overlooking Pearl
Harbor Naval Base. My father was a civilian employee at that base. I attended
Punahou School in Honolulu and participated in Junior ROTC there. As a result
of these and other experiences, I sought
and obtained a nomination to the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point from
Senator Hiram L. Fong, one of the U.S.
senators from Hawaii at the time.
What branch of the military did you
join and why?
Upon graduation from West Point in
June 1966, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. My class
and other West Point classes of that era
served as platoon leaders and company
commanders in the Vietnam War. I commanded a mechanized infantry company
that operated near the Cambodian border of Vietnam during the period 1968–
69. The experiences of my class before,
during, and after the war are chronicled
in the book The Long Gray Line by Rick
Atkinson. For example, 30 of the 579
members of my graduating class were
killed in action during the war. Another
member of my class was killed by North
Korean border guards in a savage attack
in the Demilitarized Zone in 1975.
How did that impact your life?
The Vietnam War was hugely unpopular
from the mid-1960s on. And there was
then a draft. Unlike now, the public did
not then separate the unpopularity of
that war from those who served in it. For
these and other reasons, large numbers
of my class and other West Point classes
of that era chose to resign our commis-
sions when our service obligations ended.
Many who chose to resign then pursued
careers in medicine and law. I decided
to go to the University of Washington
School of Law. Upon graduating from law
school, I joined the Seattle law firm now
known as K&L Gates. I practiced there for
over 20 years and left as a partner after
I was elected to an open position on the
Washington State Court of Appeals.
What were some skills you picked
up that you still use now?
Perhaps the most important skill is the
ability to focus on making important
decisions under pressure. The ability
to Black Robe
An Interview with Judge Ronald Cox
by Chris Lybeck