As he dons a robe, Judge Naylor reflects on his years in public defense

Marcus Naylor began a new chapter in his legal career earlier this month, when he was sworn in as a judge for the county’s Northeast District Court in Redmond. Donning a robe marks a big shift for this long-time public defender, but he sees his new position as a continuation of what he has long done and always loved.

“I went into public defense as a way to touch people’s lives,” he said. “I see a judicial position as a way to continue to have an impact.”

Marcus started his public defense work at the Northwest Defenders Association (NDA) as a licensed legal intern in 1992, long before the agency was a part of King County. He never left. Instead, he made the place his home and the people his family, working in every unit, conducting more than 100 jury trials, becoming a supervisor, and winning the respect of his colleagues.

When he walked out the door in late December after a farewell party in which his colleagues gave him an oversized gavel they had signed, he capped 27 years in public defense.

“I will miss the people I worked with the most,” he said. “That’s the best part of the job – working with people who share the same kind of commitment and ideas about public defense, about righting the wrongs for people who are underprivileged. It’s been great to be with people who are like-minded.”

Marcus was motivated to enter the profession nearly three decades ago for a mix of reasons, stemming from his Christian faith and a childhood that reads like a Dickens novel. Abandoned at a young age, he spent his childhood in an orphanage in Seoul, South Korea, and later on the streets of the city, hustling to find his way.

At age 9, his life made a dramatic turn: William and Dorothy Naylor, who wanted a son to complement their family of daughters, adopted him. He moved from Seoul, South Korea, to Willmar, Minnesota, a small city west of Minneapolis – from street life to home life.

“That was another reason I went into public defense,” he said. “I felt my parents gave me this tremendous opportunity and were always charitable and believed in community service. This was the only job I could do to give back to the community.”

Marcus experienced many highlights as a public defender. He was co-counsel in a death penalty case, saving the client’s life when the jury convicted him but chose not to give him the death penalty. He recalls clients for whom he won acquittals. He practiced in juvenile court for a few years, representing teenagers whose lives he felt he influenced. And in 2005, he won NDA’s attorney-of-the-year award, a recognition from his colleagues that meant a great deal to him. “I think I won seven trials that year,” he said.

Marcus, who is married and has two children, an 11-year-old and a 23-year-old, won his race for the judicial position in November handily. He got 66 percent of the vote to his opponent’s 34 percent. He was rated as exceptionally well-qualified by the King County Bar Association and several minority bar associations. “I was thankful that people recognized my qualifications and had confidence in me.”

As he enters his next professional phase, Marcus says he carries with him a set of beliefs that has motivated him for the past 27 years at Northwest Defenders.

“No matter how heinous the crime may be, every person deserves not only due process of law but also a chance in society. They’re human beings going through a very difficult situation.”