Alumna Christine Schaller's path to becoming a Thurston
County Superior Court Judge
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller, who ran a
successful 2012 election campaign while balancing professional
duties and caring for two young children, says she owes a great deal
to Saint Martin’s.
When Schaller, a 1993 Saint Martin’s College graduate, addressed
supporters at her campaign kick-off last year at the Norman
Worthington Conference Center, she said, “I can say with certainty
that I would not be standing before you today as a candidate for
judge if not for my excellent parents and had I not been here about
20 years ago … being taught by some of the most dedicated and
talented professors. This has been a place of beginnings,
transitions and growth for me.”
Schaller says she discovered who she was at Saint Martin’s.
“The core of who I am is how my parents raised me, but Saint
Martin’s changed my life,” says Schaller. “I came into my own there
and had so many opportunities. At Saint Martin’s, you could be
whatever you wanted.”
Saint Martin’s runs in the family. Schaller is the daughter of two
alumni — Ed Schaller, Jr. HS’62 ’66, who died in 2001, and Rose
Like many students, she looked forward to going away to college
after completing high school locally. Her father, then a member of
Saint Martin’s Alumni Association and the College’s Board of
Trustees, talked her into giving Saint Martin’s a try. “He was very
persuasive,” she laughs.
Schaller soon discovered opportunities for her to make a
difference. She got involved in student government and became
captain of the cheerleading squad. She participated in the Model
Arab League, a competition that helped students learn about Middle
She also found professors who inspired her, beginning with her
first religion class from Father Kilian Malvey, O.S.B. Her learning
continued through courses in history and political science taught by
two professors who played a pivotal role in her education, Rex
Casillas, Ph.D. and Roger Snider, Ph.D.
Having grown up in the shadow of her older sister, Nicky, “an
outstanding athlete and the brain of the family,” Schaller says
Saint Martin’s also taught her that she, too, had her share of
talents, abilities and the drive necessary to succeed.
Succeed she did.
Schaller graduated magna cum laude and enrolled in Gonzaga
University School of Law. In 1996, she completed her law degree with
cum laude honors, then passed her bar exam that summer.
Along the way, she realized she was a “home” girl, one who was
happiest near her family. So she moved back to Olympia and joined
her father’s law firm, Foster, Foster and Schaller, as an associate
attorney. The firm practiced several different kinds of law. She
found she loved family law.
“You have an opportunity to help people when they’re at one of the
most difficult stages in their lives,” she says. “When I went to law
school, I didn’t understand you could have such a positive impact on
people’s lives by advocating for them.”
Outside the office, she took part in several community activities,
including providing free legal work. She also served on several
boards, the alumni association and the United Community AIDS Network
In 1999, Schaller married Chris Kradjan in a ceremony performed by
Father Benedict Auer, O.S.B., who later baptized their daughter. The
couple settled in Tacoma, midway between his CPA consulting job in
Seattle and hers with the Olympia law firm.
That same year, a receptionist at the law firm suggested fielding
a team in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Schaller
took the first of many walks on the team, named the “Foster, Foster
and Schaller Loopholes” by her dad. Two months later, this activity
took on new meaning when Ed Schaller was diagnosed with cancer. He
died May 21, 2001.
“I was fortunate I was exceptionally close to my dad,” she says.
“He was my dad — but we were also friends and business partners. It
was hard on my sister and me because he died before we had kids, and
we knew our children would never know him.”
Cancer came yet again into her life in December 2003, when her
mother began the agonizing fight against the disease. Her mother is
now doing well. Schaller looks back on her parents’ illnesses as her
greatest challenge. It deepened her compassion and empathy for
others, something of immeasurable value when working with the many
people she meets facing adversity.
One day, Schaller was asked by Olympia Municipal Court Judge Lee
Creighton to pro tem — substitute — for him in his court.
“I’d never thought about doing that,” she recalls. “There’s a big
difference between being an advocate for a client and being a
decision-maker. I really wondered if I could be fair — but when a
judge asks you to do something, you don’t say no.”
By the end of her first day, she felt reassured and continued to
substitute. Judging a case, she realized, was looking at the same
set of facts from a different perspective. When a post came open for
a court commissioner in the Family and Juvenile Court in 2005, she
was chosen for the job.
Schaller’s professionalism, ethics and respect for those who come
before her in court earned her accolades from the Thurston County
Bar Association, which has given her the highest ratings among
Thurston County judicial officers in three of its four recent
surveys. In 2009, she was named Jurist of the Year by the Washington
State Bar Association’s Family Law Section.
Her campaign for the Superior Court post drew an impressive roster
of professional endorsements and ultimately earned her 67 percent of
Schaller says she brings to the bench important skills she first
learned in her history and political science classes. She learned to
analyze issues and developed writing skills able to pass muster
under the critical eye of her professors.
When she assisted Casillas with an entry-level class once a week,
she began learning to speak to students in a way that prompted
“That’s an important skill as a judge,” she says. “It helps with
jury selection when people need to be pushed beyond their comfort
level and boundaries.”
Schaller goes forward in her career with a vote of confidence from
those at Saint Martin’s who know her caliber best.
“From the time she first came here, she has been a source of
consistent excellence and never settled for anything but the best
from herself,” Casillas says. “I think she will be a splendid judge
— she has all the earmarks: fairness, reason and a commitment to