Longtime Tri-City attorney dies at 68

RICHLAND -- The Tri-City legal community mourned one of its own Sunday following the death of longtime lawyer Carl Sonderman.

Sonderman, 68, died of cancer Saturday in Richland.

His friends and colleagues remembered him as an "old school lawyer" who treated everyone with respect.

"That oftentimes is missing today," said Steve Lowe, former Franklin County prosecutor. "He had kind of a soft-spoken manner. He made his point without having to be loud. Many in practice (now) are loud and obnoxious."

Sonderman was one of several local attorneys with public defense contracts, meaning he often was pitted against Lowe in the courtroom, including on some murder cases. But it wasn't Sonderman's way to let that make their relationship contentious, Lowe said.

Lowe said he will most remember -- and most miss -- the easy smile Sonderman wore whenever he paid the prosecutor's office a visit.

"He was especially liked by the staff of my office," Lowe said. "He always had a smile and a good thing to say. Despite everything we dealt with in cases, he had a great sense of humor. He brought a light-heartedness to the work."

Bob Thompson, who leased office space to Sonderman in Thompson's Pasco practice and worked with him as a defense lawyer, said Sonderman also brought a sense of what was really important in life -- and that wasn't always work.

Although he continued to practice just about until the end of his life, he also made a lot of time for his family, Thompson said.

"He spent a lot of time fishing with his grandkids," Thompson said. "When I knew him, he was still in active practice but he didn't look at it as his main earning years. His focus had shifted more to his family. I think he would look back and say he enjoyed the time with his grandkids."

Thompson said he learned a lot from Sonderman about the practice of law, but also about being a well-rounded person.

"His lessons aren't all about being an attorney," Thompson said. "They're a little bit broader-based than that."

Among the topics Thompson and Sonderman discussed were government finances. Those conversations helped shape Thompson as a Richland city councilman, he said.

One of the lessons he learned is not to try to please everyone.

"You can't do everything for everybody," Thompson said. "That not only works in government, but in law, in friendships, in all sorts of things."

Sonderman first was licensed to practice in Washington in 1967. In addition to criminal defense work, he practiced estate planning, probate, foreclosure and personal injury law, according to the state bar association.

He ran for Benton-Franklin Superior Court Judge in 2000, earning a rare endorsement from Phil Raekes, the sitting judge who was stepping down from the job. Raekes was the first local judge to endorse another judicial candidate, although the practice isn't forbidden.

Sonderman lost the election to Robert Swisher, who continues to serve as a Superior Court judge today.