New state Supreme Court justice has unique connection to North Olympic Peninsula

PORT ANGELES — King County Superior Court Judge Steve Gonzalez, appointed last week by Gov. Chris Gregoire to serve as one of nine justices on the state Supreme Court beginning in January, has a connection to the North Olympic Peninsula through one of the nation’s most high-profile terrorism cases.

From 1997 to 2002, Gonzalez, now 48, was an assistant U.S. attorney in the state’s Western District.

Assigned to the major crimes division, his work included the case of U.S. v. Ressam, in which so-called “Millennium bomber” Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian-born member of al-Qaida, was tried after being captured in Port Angeles in 1999.

He drove off the MV Coho ferry from Victoria in a rental car loaded with explosives.

Ressam, who intended to set off a bomb at the Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the Millennium 2000 celebrations, was convicted in April 2001 and sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Gonzalez gave the prosecution’s opening statement and examined nearly 70 witnesses.

Andrew Hamilton, a King County deputy prosecutor and former federal attorney who worked on the case, said that Gonzalez “had a total command of the facts of this case, better than anybody else.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering whether the 22-year prison sentence imposed on Ressam by a federal judge in Seattle was adequate.

Last year, a divided three-judge panel of the court voted to reject the sentence imposed — for the second time — after the government appealed, saying the sentence was too lenient.

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