Jennifer Nelson-Ritchie KCPAO Women in Leadership
This Women’s History Month, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is highlighting some of the depth and breadth of women leaders in our office as part of our “Women in Leadership” series. These profiles are only a few of the many amazing women in our office.
How long have you worked at the PAO?
I started with the office in November of 1999, right before the WTO protests.
What is your role in the PAO?
Currently, I am a project/program manager in the Juvenile Division. I do all sorts of things — I am our law enforcement liaison, I process in-custody bookings, do rush filings, run criminal histories, organize prefiling, post-filing and pretrial discovery; I am our division’s evidence.com body worn camera contact person, I assist on data management projects, provide IT support and I support our filing staff. You name it, I do it.
I didn’t come to this office until I was almost 30. 2 years later, I had had a baby and had started working in our Sexually Violent Predator unit, where I worked for 10 years. I was able to hone my civil knowledge and the work was very rewarding. Since coming to the Juvenile Division in 2013, it seems like our work changes every 3–4 months, so that keeps things interesting day-to-day.
What were you doing before coming to the PAO?
In college I worked on a floating salmon and crab processor — think “Deadliest Catch.” I was a processor for four years. My barge was called the Arctic Star, it was a true microcosm of society. In the summer we did salmon in Bristol Bay and in winter we did opilio and bairdi crab in Dutch Harbor. It was a great experience that gave me much needed perspective.
After earning a degree in Legal Studies at Pacific Lutheran University I took a job with a quick oil change company and became manager of a location in North Seattle for a few years. In 1996 I moved to Pullman, where I may have been one of the few people under 30 who was not a WSU student. While there I got a job with the Whitman County Noxious Weed Control Board, where I first got my feet wet in state law: educating landowners on their duty to control and writing infractions under the authority of Title 17 RCW (Weeds, Rodents and Pests).
Eventually I moved back to the west side of the mountains and returned to my old oil change company, with the caveat that I would eventually be looking for work in the legal field.
I was hired at the PAO after seeing a newspaper ad for a Legal Secretary. I didn’t know anything about how to be a legal secretary, but records section legend Elaine Pauly saw my resume and took a chance and I was hired as an LAS I.
What are some of your goals in regards to the work you do?
I am a tech-y type person, so my ultimate goal is for my division’s systems to run as smoothly as possible. If you as a staff person can resolve enough of the technical details, then the Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys can focus on interpreting new and ever-changing laws, overseeing our rapidly expanding pre and post filing diversion programs, and deal with all the other big changes that seem to occur on a daily basis.
We are always searching for new ways to better serve the youth of our county, along with their families, while striving to make victims feel as whole as possible. My college’s motto was “Educating for Service” and I have to say I took it to heart, and I try to make sure I provide service in some way to my community every day.
What sort of obstacles have you faced in your field? What was it like dealing with those?
It’s interesting — my fish and oil change jobs were very much male dominated fields. At my oil change job, there were people that would refuse to have me work on their cars because I was a woman, even though I was the manager! So, I got used to being the only woman in the room sometimes.
But then I came to the prosecutor’s office, where most of the support staff are women. That was a brand-new dynamic for me to figure out, because I had never worked in such an environment before. These days I volunteer my time with Washington State PTA and Girl Scouts and am surrounded by awesome women and girl leaders and I just try to keep up with them!
What advice would you give to other women who are considering a similar career path?
Don’t give up, stick with it. It can be very easy to get frustrated. I spent many years in non-legal jobs, just to figure out all those experiences were leading me here to the PAO. There are so many women now in our field in terms of the complex work being done by legal administrative staff and paralegals, that a lot of glass ceilings that my mother and her mother’s generations lived through have been broken.
I have seen some women start as staff and move on to getting a law degree, so if that’s where you want to be this is a great place to learn the ins and outs and see if it’s the job for you. It’s an interesting field to go into right now because it’s changing and progressing so rapidly; you must be ready to roll with the punches.
Catch up with the entire KCPAO Women in Leadership series on our blog at kcprosecutor.medium.com.