Michelle Ressa, a 1996 graduate of Gonzaga Law and current Spokane County Superior Court Commissioner received the 2014 Myra Bradwell award earlier this year for her work in family law. A ceremony honoring Commissioner Ressa was held in Gonzaga’s Barbieri Courtroom on April 11th.
A Legal Career Dedicated to Families and Child Welfare
A passionate commitment to issues concerning the welfare of women and children has been evident throughout Ressa’s career. In 1991 and 1992, while studying at the University of Washington, she served as a domestic violence crisis line volunteer with the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network in Kent, Washington. After law school, Ressa served for four years as a teen mentor at Girl’s State in Ellensburg, Washington.
In 1996, Ressa was appointed as an Assistant Attorney General and tasked with representing the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in cases of dependency, termination, and licensing actions. In 2002, she accepted a position with the Children’s Administration Headquarters, and continued to represent the DSHS in civil tort cases. Ressa conducted training sessions on family law issues for the courts, the Attorney General’s office, and the child welfare community.
Ressa served as the Superior Court Commissioner in Grant County for one year, until she was appointed to the Spokane County Superior Court bench in 2007. As Superior Court Commissioner, Ressa presides over a caseload that includes more than 200 family law cases, 150 Native American family and juvenile dependency cases, and various other domestic violence and truant youth cases. She has given lectures on ethical awareness in cases involving children, and taught Juvenile Law as an adjunct professor at Gonzaga Law School in 2012.
Creating Innovation within the Spokane Community
Ressa also works with the Helping Other Parents Engage (HOPE) program, a class taught by parents who managed to overcome their dependencies and regain care of their children. A regular presenter, Ressa offers HOPE participants the perspective of a judicial officer and explains what they should expect as they work towards reunion with their children. Within the dependency system itself, Ressa established a committee of professionals, including Assistant Attorneys General, judicial officers and public defenders, who come together each month to create innovative ways for improving the system, allowing it to better serve Spokane area families and their specific needs.
About the Myra Bradwell Award
For 20 years, the Gonzaga Women’s Law Caucus has given the Myra Bradwell Award to honor a Gonzaga Law alumnus who makes significant efforts to improve the lives of women and children in need. The award is named for Myra Colby Bradwell, who was admitted to the Illinois Bar association in 1890, 20 years after being denied admission on the basis of gender. Previous award recipients include Washington State Supreme Court Justices Barbara Madsen, Debra Stephens and Mary Fairhurst, Spokane Superior Court judges Ellen Kalama Clark and Tari Eitzen, former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Jamie Hawk, and many other influential women.