In the summer of 2003, Jon R. Morrone sat in the front row of Professor David DeWolf’s torts class. All of the other seats had been taken, and more than a year had passed since Jon sat in a classroom. “Just survive,” he thought. “Do not draw attention, lest you be singled out to recite the elements of vicarious liability to the man who wrote the book on Washington tort law.”
We caught up with Jon to talk about his recent Washington State Defense Associate of the Year award, his experience at Gonzaga University, and life since graduating in 2006.
Q: How have things been since graduation?
A: First, thank you for this opportunity. I am a proud Zag. Always have been. Gonzaga gave me a shot – gave me an opportunity to follow my dreams. For that, I am always grateful.
Q: What do you mean?
A: Attending Gonzaga was a no-brainer. It is a great school with a solid reputation, and I am glad that I got accepted into the program. After getting to know my classmates and the faculty and staff, I fell in love with GU and its Jesuit mission. I have always tried to give back, even as a student.
Q: How did you give back during law school?
A: I was lucky to be selected by my classmates to serve on the Student Bar Association in each of my three years. I’d like to think that I helped make things better for the school. During my last year as Student Bar President, we got a couple of things through – prohibited using general fund monies for alcohol purchases, and clearly defined the process for club recognition. Both of those items created serious issues during my time at GU, and I am proud with what we accomplished.
Q: I also understand that you were an executive board member of the Women’s Law Caucus. Is that true?
A: Yeah, it is. And it was a smart move – I met my wife, Cynthia Hwang, at a WLC meeting. She’s an amazing woman. I kid with her that she joined the WLC because of me, but we both know the truth.
Q: So back to my original question. How has it been since your graduation?
A: Really good. I have benefitted from incredible mentorship. It started before law school. My first mentor is still one of my closest confidants. But in law school, I had a great mentor and friend in Professor Lisa Bradley. She is both caring and no-nonsense. It is a unique pairing of traits, but exactly what I needed. And I have had a few more since then.
Q: Where did you get your start?
A: I joined the Attorney General’s Office shortly after law school. My first gig was protecting children from abusive parents. Pretty tough stuff, you know? But I had a great mentor who taught me that it was okay to think for myself. I found a lot of joy in the freedom of responsibility. That sounds odd, but there is a lot of freedom in knowing that you are capable of making tough decisions and pushing forward. And there is nothing tougher than making a decision that will change the arc of a child’s life forever.
Q: And how long did you do that?
A: Three years. And then I accepted a position in our office’s “Torts” division. I primarily defended colleges and educational institutions in civil litigation.
Q: That is quite different than what you were doing. How did your education and experience prepare you for that next step?
A: The Jesuit motto is: “For the greater glory of God.” That same principle is imbedded in our law school’s mission. I am glad that I had that drilled into me while at GU. In the most basic terms, it means: Always do good. Not part of the time. Not some of the time. All of the time. That principle carried me through law school and into my first job. It also motivated me during my time in the Torts division.
Q: Is that where you earned your nomination for “Defense Associate of the Year?”
A: Yes. Once again, I had a great mentor. He pushed me to work hard, trust my own judgment, and give no quarter to people pushing bad claims in pursuit of easy money.
Q: You are no longer with the Attorney General’s Office, though?
A: That’s right. I have been fortunate to work for the two best law firms in the state: the Attorney General’s Office, and now Williams Kastner, where I continue to defend employment decisions and educational institutions in civil litigation. It is my passion.
Q: What do you feel is your greatest professional achievement?
A: In February 2013, I delivered oral argument in Division One on a matter I had dismissed. The plaintiff claimed $1,000,000.00 in damages resulting from personal injuries, and the trial court granted my Civil Rule 12(c) motion. Immediately after oral argument, I jumped in my car, drove to the superior court, and delivered the opening statement in a trial that ended with a $2,600,000.00 request for damages. I didn’t even get to see the plaintiff’s opening statement, and had to give mine blind. The trial ended, the plaintiff got nothing, and Division One ended up affirming my trial court victory in a unanimous published opinion. It was wild. But, again, none of it was possible without mentors along the way telling me that I was capable. Mentorship is the key to believing in yourself.
Q: Do you have any advice for our students or alumni?
A: There is nothing that I can tell them that they don’t already know. Just go to work every day and believe in what you are doing. Be confident, work hard, and results will follow. But all of our grads know that. If you make it through GU, you know that consistent, principled work will get you far. That, and some luck. I’m probably more lucky than anything else.
Morrone delivered that last line with a chuckle, but says it is true. In addition to defending businesses, Morrone and his wife are active in the community. They have two dogs, and travel the globe as often as they can. In the fall, Jon moonlights as a sports broadcaster, broadcasting all home football games for Gig Harbor and Peninsula High Schools on KGHP, a local radio station. If you email the station manager during the game and let him know you are listening, Jon guarantees a radio “shout out.”