Alumnus Peter Boome Appointed to Bench of the Tulalip Tribes

UW Law alumnus Peter Boome (JD ’11) sits on the bench of the Tulalip Tribes as their newest associate judge this month. A current resident of University Place, Boome is a member of the Upper Skagit Tribe. His childhood on the Ute reservation in Utah, combined with clinical learning at UW Law and practicing as a public defender, have developed his cultural sensitivities as a mediator and judge.

Peter Boome

Boome is a leading Coast Salish artist known for his exquisite Salish designs and contemporary Intertribal art across many mediums. The owner and designer of Araquin Designs, Boome’s specialty is hand-pulled serigraphs printing environmental themes. His artwork has been displayed at Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, and is part of the permanent collections of the Burke Museum and Washington State History Museum. His artwork is currently on exhibit at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle until June 5, 2022.

Before coming to UW Law, Boome earned his associate degree from Northwest Indian College and bachelor’s degree in art from Evergreen State College, where he also received a master’s degree in environmental studies.

We spoke with Boome about his path to the tribal court bench and his memories of experiential learning at UW Law.

UW Law: You have a master’s degree in environmental studies. What drew you to study law?

PB: When I was 12, I wanted to be a lawyer but I had no idea what that meant or entailed. I just understood prejudice and bigotry and wanted to do something about systemic injustice. I observed and experienced unfair treatment, especially of dark-skinned family and friends. When I was 18, I had an altercation with the police. I experienced firsthand a lot of what is wrong with our criminal justice system, and I wondered who to turn to when mistreated by the system.

When I worked as a regulatory enforcement agent in the gaming industry, I worked insane hours for a family that I didn’t get to see that often, so I decided to give law school a go.

I graduated from law school at the height of the recession. I couldn’t find a job in environmental law, and the jobs I looked at offered less than I was making as an artist. Did I want to work 60 hours a week at a law firm to make the same as an artist at 15 hours? I didn’t practice right away after law school, but I had multiple income streams by doing mediation and teaching at Northwest Indian College and Evergreen State College while also doing art.

UW Law: How did your clinical experiences at UW Law lead you to practice mediation?

PB: In law school, I took every clinic that I could, like the Tribal Court Clinic (Criminal Defense and Family Advocacy) and as a 3L, the Street Law Clinic and Mediation Clinic. Mediation clicked for me. It just worked. In Indian country, there are primarily all sorts of mediation needs. In 2017, I started doing public defense work for the Tulalip Tribes. I was working with the Wellness Court once a week. It is similar to mediation in a lot of ways. In Wellness Court, the goal is not to punish people but to change their behaviors.

UW Law: How did your career course change when the pandemic hit?

PB: When the pandemic hit, my art sales went down by 90 percent. The fallback option was being a lawyer. I picked up a contract as primary public defender for Muckleshoot Tribes and started a PLLC to do facilitation, mediation, civil matters, and public defense primarily in Indian country. Most of my state court cases are tribal defendants.

In August 2021, I became a pro tem judge in the Sauk-Suiattle tribal court and this month, May 2022, I became a new associate judge in Tulalip. I will be dealing primarily with family court issues, with an eye toward drug treatment court.

UW Law: What can you see yourself adding to the Tribal Court setting?

PB: As an Indian who grew up on a reservation, I can communicate with people at their level. I was a poor Indian kid, so I understand poverty, violence and really difficult life situations. Some judges can miss things that are really important to people, so I would handle things from the bench with that perspective.

Oftentimes as a judge, you’re dealing with people in the worst period of their lives in a complicated situation. I will try to be as fair and impartial as possible, but I am not married to any one approach. I am a practical person. I have been asked to use mediation skills within the tribal court setting and incorporate as much mediation into these cases as I can.

UW Law: What are some of your memories from law school?

PB: I was an older student, I had four kids, and I treated school like a job. I didn’t do much of the social stuff. My law school experience was isolating. I didn’t have anyone I could turn to from a similar background and didn’t have people who could translate what was being said. That was very difficult as a student. My clinic experiences were great, especially the Tribal Court Public Defense Clinic.

I was used to straight A’s before coming to law school, but once here I was just an average student. Everyone is used to being the best where they came from. My wife Lois would remind me to collaborate with people rather than to compete with them.

UW Law: What qualities about your clinic experiences made it the highlight for you?

PB: The clinic experiences were helpful because they were structured in the same way I learn. I am an experiential learner; I will learn things by doing. When I was hanging out with Maori artists in New Zealand, I was told the Maori learn with their hands. I too learn with my hands. Indigenous folks around the world learn best that way. In the tribal society I grew up in specifically, we had a watch-and-learn mentality from elders and family. As a child, when you are old enough, you are expected to do things because you’ve been exposed to all of it already.

UW Law: Any words of wisdom for clinic participants?

PB: Watch for paralysis by analysis. Listen to your clients. Watch their reaction and responses. Ask multiple times until you have more fully developed answers. People will tell you what they want and need. You simply need to know how to listen, and that isn’t always verbal.

UW Law: Anything else you’d like to share about UW Law?

PB: We are two generations deep now. My daughter Malena Boome (JD ’20) graduated from UW Law during the pandemic! She also participated in the Tribal Court Defense Clinic.