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Originally published Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 5:28 PM

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In Judge Frank LaSalata's court, all were made to feel important

King County District Court Judge Frank LaSalata, a man described as compassionate and fair, died on Saturday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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For more than a dozen years, King County District Court Judges Frank LaSalata and Peter Nault would sit inside the Issaquah Courthouse, the pocket doors separating their offices wide open, comparing notes on cases, shooting the breeze about historical events and joking about their anemic golf games.

Though the conversations were often filled with humor, Judge LaSalata was always there when a request for serious advice was put before him, Nault recalled. When it came to friendship, mentorship or even his role on the bench, Judge LaSalata was always eager to offer his ear when someone needed to talk.

For 14 years, Judge LaSalata presided over courtrooms with a desire to make everyone before him feel important, Nault said. Though battling cancer the past two years, he rarely let his health be the center of his attention. Instead, he focused on work.

"Frank's approach to the whole thing was 'it is what it is and I'll get over it,' " said Nault. "He wasn't going to bring people down because of his problems or troubles."

Judge LaSalata died Saturday at his Redmond home. He was 60.

"He was our rock. He was our sounding board. He was the one who always had that piece of advice when no one else did. He was my best friend," said one of his three sons, Michael LaSalata, of Arlington.

Another son, Anthony LaSalata, also of Arlington, added that, "it didn't matter what time of day it was, you could always call him and talk to him."

His third son, David, of Tacoma, said, "He was an amazing man."

Frank V. LaSalata was born on March 7, 1952, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was the only child of Michael and Sadie LaSalata.

Judge LaSalata grew up on Long Island until feeling the itch to explore the country. He moved to Lewis County in 1975 to work for the U.S. Forest Service. While there, he met his former wife, Rosemary Carnahan, and the couple soon moved to Pullman so he could attend Washington State University and study geology, according to his family.

After graduating with both a bachelor's and master's degree in geology, Judge LaSalata was hired to map coal mines near Centralia.

In the early 1990s, Judge LaSalata went back to school, to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer. He graduated from the University of Puget Sound School of Law in 1992, said friend Dian Murray.

Judge LaSalata went into private practice in Bellevue, in a building with 40 other lawyers, recalled Bellevue lawyer Ted Barr. Barr said he rented Judge LaSalata his Bellevue office space.

"He was a great tenant. He was the nicest guy. He got along with everybody. He had a big heart, vivacious smile. Even though he wasn't rolling in dough, he always paid his rent on time," said Barr.

Judge LaSalata opened a practice in Friday Harbor and soon began filling in as a pro-tem judge.

"He loved it. He knew that was what he wanted to do, and he was almost constantly a pro tem," said Murray.

In 2006, Judge Salata was elected to King County District Court, presiding over courtrooms in Redmond and Issaquah.

"I would say he was an excellent judge, and a lot of it was his judicial demeanor," said Barr, who is a defense attorney. "He made every person in court feel important. He took a lot of personal interest in the defendants. He treated them all equally."

Even though Judge LaSalata's decisions were "thoughtful," he was controversial, Barr said.

"He would make unpopular decisions or be creative in his sentencings so the sanction would truly fit the crime or fit the individual," Barr said. "He would often give a deferred sentence for people who were participants in nonviolent crimes or first-time offenders. I think he believed in redemption."

In addition to his three sons, Judge LaSalata is survived by eight grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be held at the Clise Mansion at Marymoor Park in Redmond at noon on Sept. 22. The event is open to the public.

The family is asking people to visit the online guest book at www.cedarlawns-washington.com.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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