D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus G. King III, who took over a court in turmoil in 2000, has been reappointed to a new four-year term after overseeing the overhaul of the court's long-troubled family division.
None of Superior Court's 57 other judges challenged King for the job of running one of the country's busiest trial courts, which is spread over several buildings around Judiciary Square.
It was a far cry from the free-for-all four years ago when seven judges, including King, applied to replace Eugene N. Hamilton, who retired amid widespread criticism of the court leadership.
A judge since 1984, King became chief with a mandate to restore the court's reputation and repair its relations with Congress, while revamping the troubled family division. That division is now known as D.C. Family Court, and it handles cases of neglect and juvenile delinquency as well adoptions, divorces and mental health commitments.
The January 2000 death of 23-month-old Brianna Blackmond spurred calls from Congress to reform the family court and the rest of the city's child welfare sytem. Brianna was killed after a judge returned her to her family's troubled home.
Brianna had been in foster care, but the judge returned her to the care of her mother without a full examination of the case. Brianna was killed two weeks later by her godmother, who lived with the family, after the little girl would not sit still while her hair was being braided.
After taking over, King installed Judge Lee F. Satterfield as head of D.C. Family Court, and the two men and their aides have worked to regain the confidence of Congress, which funds the court. "The bottom line," King said, is that now, "there is a level of trust there that is very helpful."
A series of reports by outside evaluators have applauded the restructuring, saying that cases are moving more quickly and efficiently through the system, and only last month, members of Congress, on a visit to the courthouse, praised the court leadership.
Looking back, King said, he and his competitors underestimated what it would take to transform the court. "I think all of us who had tried for chief realized that the family court or family division needed attention," he said. "But I don't think any of us saw the challenge of Congress's plans to reform it, nor did we see the opportunity that Congress presented when it said 'We want to totally remake your family court.' "
With the biggest family court reforms behind him, King said he hopes that he can now concentrate on pressing needs that have received less attention, such as the information technology system, the busy landlord-tenant court and the probate division, which was the subject of a critical series of reports last year in The Washington Post.
King was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1942. He graduated from Princeton University with a biology degree in 1966. He obtained his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1971. He was in private practice before President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the bench in 1984.
He has since worked in almost every division of the court and was presiding judge of the Civil Division from 1997 to 1998. He was the first chairman of the court's Committee on Technology and Automation.