The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County Superior Court losing 2 judges


Tuolumne County Superior Court will soon lose two longtime judges who have decided to hang up their robes for good.

Superior Court Presiding Judge Kevin Seibert announced in separate news releases late

Thursday afternoon that Assistant Presiding Judge Donald Segerstrom and Judge Kate Powell Segerstrom have filed for retirement prior to the expiration of their current elected six-year terms.

The releases stated Donald Segerstrom’s retirement is set to be effective on Dec. 31, while Kate

Powell Segerstrom’s retirement is set to be effective on Jan. 31.

Seibert said both have agreed to participat­e in the “assigned judges program” and continue presiding over cases at the court until Gov. Gavin Newsom announces his appointmen­ts to fill the vacancies.

Donald Segerstrom, 70, was serving as the county’s elected district attorney when he was appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in December 2011 to fill a vacancy on the court’s bench at the time.

He’s currently the court’s longest serving judge after fending off an election challenger in 2012 to keep his seat for a full six-year term and running unconteste­d for reelection in 2018. His current term expires at the end of 2024.

“Losing his experience, wisdom and work ethic will certainly create a void in our court,” Seibert said in the news release.

Kate Powell Segerstrom, 66,

had spent nearly 30 years as a lawyer in private practice focused mainly on civil law before she was appointed to the court’s bench by Gov. Jerry Brown in December 2013.

She ran for election unconteste­d in 2014 and again in 2020, with her current term set to expire at the end of 2026.

“It has been my honor and pleasure to spend 36 years in the legal profession working with her, both in our private legal practices before becoming judges and as colleagues on the bench,” Seibert said in the news release.

The two vacancies leave Seibert and Judge Laura Krieg, who took office at the start of the year after she was elected in 2020 while serving as the county’s district attorney, as the court’s only judges actively serving out elected terms.

Whoever is appointed to the vacancies will be required to run in the next election to maintain their seats.

Kate Powell Segerstrom

Kate Powell Segerstrom is married to Donald Segerstrom’s cousin, Charles. Her mother was the late Marlee Powell, a longtime member of the Sonora City Council and second woman to ever serve as the city’s mayor.

She said in an interview on Friday the decision to retire was made independen­tly of her cousin-in-law’s and was influenced by events that have unfolded over the past two years since she filed to run for another term, in particular the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID is an important factor to me because it impacted so many different parts of our lives at work and personal lives,” she said. “It’s also a reminder that life is short.”

Having open heart surgery over the summer to fix a defect that has taken the lives of other members of Kate Powell Segerstrom’s family was both another reminder for her that life is short and played a role in her decision.

Kate Powell Segerstrom said she now wants to spend more time traveling and enjoying life with her husband, Charles, who has been retired for eight years.

“He’s been making good use of his time, but we still have a lot of adventures we want to do together,” she said.

The couple’s sons, Owen and Carl, are both in their 30s and live out of state, so Kate Powell Segerstrom is looking forward to visiting them and her grandchild­ren more often.

Kate Powell Segerstrom has spent most of her years on the bench presiding over civil cases, though the past year she’s taken on the misdemeano­r calendar because of the addition of Krieg, who can’t currently preside over most criminal matters due to recently being the DA.

“What surprised me the most and still shocks me is how much drug and alcohol abuse impacts almost every single case it seems in our county,” she said. “Whether it’s a family falling apart, or children being forced into child welfare services, or drunk driving, or theft, it all seems to go back to drug and alcohol abuse and the huge impact of that. It really feels like almost every case has that influence one way or another.”

Overseeing family law cases has been one of the challengin­g aspects of the job, but can also be the most rewarding, Kate Powell Segerstrom said.

“The toughest cases are family law and dependency law where children are so vulnerable to the choices the adults in their lives are making and the court has to intervene,” she said. “It’s both humbling and challengin­g to have to make those decisions for families when you wish families could make them themselves, but it’s very satisfying to see those orders work and when the kids are happier and flourish.”

In 2019, Kate Powell Segerstrom received the prestigiou­s Irving J. Symons Award from the Sonora Area Foundation for outstandin­g community service. She also served on numerous governing boards for a variety of local public agencies and private nonprofit organizati­ons prior to becoming a judge.

Donald Segerstrom

Donald Segerstrom’s family roots in the area date back to the Gold Rush era.

His mother, Mary Etta, was a journalist, and father Donald Sr. was the former publisher of The Union Democrat in the mid20th century. His career in public service includes serving as the county’s district attorney from 2001 to 2011 and, prior to that, as a deputy district attorney in Stanislaus County from 1985 to 1988.

Turning 70 this year was the primary spark that made Donald Segerstrom want to put down the gavel.

“I’ve come to realize that time, other than love, is probably the most valuable commodity there is,” he said. “This is a really time consuming job. Probably in the last 10 years, there aren’t many weekends I haven’t had to come into court to prepare for the next week.”

Retirement will allow Donald Segerstrom to go back to school and pursue some of his other interests, including music, photograph­y and foreign languages — French, in particular.

Donald Segerstrom said he’ll likely study music and photograph­y at Columbia College, where he attended for a year as a young man before going to law school, while he would like to study French in France or Quebec.

“Once the governor appoints somebody, it will hopefully give more time to do these things I want to do,” he said.

Retiring will also allow him to spend more time with his wife, Sharon, and see his kids, Stephen and Hanna, who are both in their 30s.

Donald Segerstrom said aspects of the job he’ll miss the most include working with all of the court staff and other lawyers and digging into case law when questions arise, referring to himself as a “legal nerd.”

He has served in a variety of roles during his tenure on the bench, including as presiding judge and overseeing the Juvenile Justice Commission formed after the completion of the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in 2017.

As presiding judge, Donald Segerstrom also was the court’s liaison to the California Judicial Council during much of the planning and constructi­on of the new $70 million superior courthouse at the Law and Justice Center in Sonora that was funded entirely by the state and just opened last Monday.

“I’ve been working on this courthouse for eight years,” he said. “I feel like I’ve fulfilled one of my obligation­s to the court now that we’re in the new courthouse.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of the job that Donald Segerstrom said he didn’t expect when he took it was presiding over family law cases during his initial years on the bench, something he had never practiced as an attorney.

He explained when a child is 14 or older during custody disputes, they have a right to request to speak with a judge directly one-on-one. He said some of the conversati­ons he had with those children are moments in his career that stand out the most.

“One thing it did was give me great hope for the future of our society, because the kids I spoke to were uniformly bright and introspect­ive,” he said. “It gave me optimism for the future of our society.”

 ?? / Union Democrat (left); Guy Mccarthy / Union Democrat (right) ?? Judges Kate Powell Segerstrom (left) and Donald Segerstrom will retire from Tuolumne County Superior Court, Donald Segerstrom at the end of December, and Kate Powell Segerstrom at the end of January 2022.
/ Union Democrat (left); Guy Mccarthy / Union Democrat (right) Judges Kate Powell Segerstrom (left) and Donald Segerstrom will retire from Tuolumne County Superior Court, Donald Segerstrom at the end of December, and Kate Powell Segerstrom at the end of January 2022.
 ?? ?? File photo
File photo

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