Spotlight on up-and-comers
Nearly 15 years ago, in King County Superior Court
Judge Richard F. McDermott’s courtroom, a jury
found a defendant guilty—and inspired a mother of
two young girls to go to law school and become a
criminal law attorney.
Sheri Pewitt was on that jury, serving as the foreper-
son, shortly after having her second child. “It mattered
to be there,” she recalls. “Every role fascinated me.”
A few years earlier, Pewitt, who holds an MBA from
the University of Washington, had left a travel-heavy job
in international marketing to have more time to raise
her family. A role as marketing director at a startup
had ended when the company fell prey to the dot-com
bust. She was now freelancing in marketing and feeling
“rather uninspired” about her career.
So she started taking night classes at Seattle University School of Law, and freely admits she was “that
annoying person who loved every minute of it.” After
her second year, she returned to Judge McDermott’s
courtroom—this time as a law clerk.
“Her passion for doing the right thing and dogged
determination were impressive from day one,” says
McDermott. He ranks her among the top three of the
During her third year of law school, Pewitt clerked
for the sexually violent predator unit of the State Attor-
ney General’s Office, assisting in the civil commitment
case of “South Hill Rapist” Kevin Coe from Spokane.
Her tasks included preparing victims to testify and
gathering information about Coe’s deviant conduct al-
leged by a woman he married during his incarceration.
Pewitt initially planned to become a prosecutor.
“I believed in the utopia of the system,” she recalls.
“Like most jurors and people who haven’t been on
Pewitt made a name for herself as a public defender
the other side, I thought the police never lied and
assumed everyone who was charged must have done
something or they wouldn’t be sitting there.”
An externship in 2008 with the Snohomish
County Office of Public Defense helped change her
mind. “People forget that a defense attorney’s job is
not to get guilty people off,” she says. “It’s to fight to
make sure their constitutional rights are protected
Sometimes, she says, police “just have it wrong.”
Her job is to make them prove their cases.
when she obtained an acquittal for a client accused of
reckless driving and DUI. Her defense was that Ambien
‘Out of the Jury Box’
Sheri Pewitt’s personal mantra guides her practice—and her pro bono work
representing political protesters BY ALLISON PERYEA
had caused “sleep-driving.” She requested jury instruc-
tions to include information on involuntary intoxication
and automatism. “The office had taken up a poll against
me,” Pewitt says, laughing. “It was a long shot, but my
supervisor noted that the worst thing the judge could say
is no. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get it.” The judge said
yes, and it may have been crucial to winning the case.
Since 2013, after four years at the Public Defend-
er’s Office, Pewitt has worked as a solo practitioner.
“Sheri goes above and beyond for every client,” says
criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Burg, who shares
an office suite with Pewitt. “She treats every case like
That includes pro bono constitutional-rights cases.
In 2015, she helped defend 11 people arrested over a
road blockage during a Black Lives Matter protest on
Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They were charged with
pedestrian interference—a simple misdemeanor.
Though each defendant had counsel, Pewitt served
as the lead and thought carefully about framing the
case in a way that would fit into the worldview of the
jurors. “I had to convince them that we all owe a debt
to people who risked arrest and harm in protesting,”
she recalls. “The social fabric we know today did not
simply just come to be; we had to fight for it.” She
cites the suffragettes, as well as those who pushed for
adoption of the ADA, labor laws and Title IX.
Not all the defendants wanted to pursue the week-
long trial. Those who did, including Pewitt’s, were
acquitted after less than 30 minutes of deliberation.
The other seven negotiated non-conviction pleas.
As thanks, Pewitt’s clients gave her a piece of
artwork that now hangs in her tidy office. It depicts a
pair of hands linked at the wrist, over the phrase “We
are stronger together.” It’s a personal and professional maxim for Pewitt, who continues to represent political protesters through the National Lawyers Guild,
an organization dedicated to protecting civil rights.
She also actively encourages others to volunteer as
pro bono attorneys and legal observers of protests.
Pewitt makes sure her clients are fully informed
about possible “collateral consequences” if they
are convicted. She gives them personalized charts
showing the potential outcomes—such as the loss
of financial aid, federal employment or housing.
“Often, jail is the last thing criminal defendants need
to be concerned about,” she says, noting that those
charged—particularly first-time offenders—have
trouble focusing on other considerations.
like the most
case in the