Local Boy Makes Good: “Thom” Alpaugh Ascends from Ordinary Island Kid to Bainbridge Muni Court Judge

Thomas “Thom” Alpaugh – the island’s newly minted Municipal Court Judge – has deep island roots. His Dad established what many believe to be the first Bainbridge law firm in the 1950s. His mom worked for American Marine Bank (now Umpqua Bank on Winslow Way) and eventually rose through the ranks to become its President – one of only two women in the state at the time to be their bank’s chief executive.

Thom Alpaugh
Thom Alpaugh

Thom Alpaugh grew up on the island in the 1960s and 1970s, along with five siblings, and remembers a much simpler time and place. “There was only a stop sign at Winslow Way and Highway 305” back then, he recalls. “Everyone really knew everybody else. It was a small, close-knit community. People would wave at you, or honk at you when you were walking up the street… And, we played in all the fields along Madison (Avenue),” that are now apartments, commercial buildings or condominiums.

Alpaugh, who was appointed the new Municipal Court Judge a few weeks ago in place of Judge Sara McCulloch, who resigned from the Bainbridge Island bench last fall, has spent his entire life on the island, except for a few years away while earning his law degree from the University of Puget Sound.

He’ll finish out McCulloch’s remaining two years (on a four-year appointment) and will then await a decision by City Manager Blair King and the City Council to determine if he is to be re-appointed or not.

Why become a Municipal Court Judge? “I like helping my community,” he says, without hesitation. The 62-year-old Alpaugh was a mainstay on the fields and courts of Bainbridge Island youth sports for 17 years, coaching his two sons and two daughters in Little League baseball, park and recreation basketball and girls’ softball. He also donned a mask, chest protector and shin guards and umped games when his coaching days were over.

“I really enjoyed it,” he says. “It was a lot of fun.”

Most recently he served as the Bainbridge Island Public Defender for the Municipal Court and has held that position since 1992.

He acted as Poulsbo Public Defender for seven years and served on occasion as Judge Pro-Tem for the Poulsbo and Bremerton Municipal Courts. He says his 35 years as a lawyer, and his experience as Public Defender and Judge Pro-Tem were “good stepping stones to becoming a judge… This is going to be the extent of it. I have no ambitions beyond this.”

While a Judge Pro-Tem is “someone who has experience and reflects on the knowledge of the presiding judge… and knows the ins and outs of what’s going on in the court,” Alpaugh explains, a Muni Court Judge is “basically protecting the integrity of the judicial system” and attempts to be “impartial and fair… I’m there to ensure that a defendant is treated fairly and the public is protected.”

Thom AlpaughAt the Bainbridge Muni Court – now located in the new Ted Spearman Justice Center on Madison Avenue, which also houses the BI Police Department, Alpaugh will adjudicate on cases that include gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors and parking violations.

Gross misdemeanors include everything from DUIs, domestic violence, violations of protection orders and serious driving offenses and can includes maximum sentences of up to 364 days in jail and fines up to $5,000. Misdemeanors are less grievous crimes that could land someone in jail for 90 days and/or have them be fined up to $1,000, or both. Parking violations include garden variety parking tickets to speeding tickets, along with offenders who perform other grievous misdeeds, such as speeding through school and construction zones.

Alpaugh had to go through “a rigorous application process” like other candidates, says City Manager King. “It was clear that Judge Alpaugh would bring a lot of valuable expertise and experience to the city,” he explains. “He will be a great addition to the city and to the Ted Spearman Justice Center.”

Qualified candidates participated in a forum conducted by the Kitsap County Bar Association, and later, local legal experts and the City interviewed finalists. The City Council officially confirmed Alpaugh’s appointment on Jan. 23, and he was later sworn in on Feb. 13.

“It has been my honor to serve the people of Bainbridge Island as its public defender, and I look forward to serving in a new capacity as the Municipal Court Judge,” he said in a prepared statement, prior to his swearing in. “I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the gavel, and I will do my very best to skillfully and equitably serve this island I call home.”

Thom AlpaughAlpaugh and his wife, Vivienne, have been married for more than 30-plus years and have four kids. He’s close to his five siblings, and has a particular affinity for his father and mother. “I remember when I was a kid my Dad took me to the Port Orchard (Kitsap County) jail. He said, ‘try to always stay on the other side of those bars, son.’”

His Dad, Robert Alpaugh, who passed away in 1971, moved his young family to Bainbridge back in the day when he got a tip from former Bainbridge and Kitsap County businessman and developer, Sam Clarke Sr. that the island had no practicing lawyers. “That (advice) was the difference between moving here and Moses Lake,” Thom Alpaugh recalls.

For years, his office was located in the space on Winslow Way that is now occupied by a jewelry store, just two doors away from where his mother, Bess Alpaugh, later ran the show at the former American Marine Bank for more than a decade, beginning in 1989. Bess Alpaugh is still with us at 95 years old.

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Source Materials: City of Bainbridge Island, our own reporting. Some photos are courtesy of Ed Stern

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