King County Superior Court Judge-elect Scott Johnson, who would have taken office in January, died early Saturday in Yakima of a heart attack.

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King County Superior Court Judge-elect Scott Johnson died early Saturday in Yakima of a heart attack. He was 53.

Johnson, an attorney at Stokes Lawrence in Seattle, had run unopposed for Position 20 on the court. His term would have started on Jan. 1.

“This is a tragic loss for his family and for the court,” said Presiding Judge Richard McDermott. “He was a very special guy and a very successful lawyer who decided he wanted to apply his talents and experience to helping people by being a judge.”

Johnson was in Yakima on business for his firm, which has an office there, said Carolyn Cairns, one of his colleagues. He felt ill and went to the hospital, where he died.

Johnson was a trial lawyer specializing in trust and estate work, intellectual property and general commercial litigation, Cairns said. He served in several community organizations and provided free legal services for groups that included the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

Johnson was taking a “huge pay cut” to become a judge because he was devoted to public service, Cairns said.

“He was more fun to be with and more fun to work with than probably any colleague I’ve ever had,” she said. “His enthusiasm for his work and for the legal system was boundless.”

Among the changes Johnson proposed for the county court system were an increase in filing fees for regular civil cases and a reduction in the fees that weigh most heavily on families and low-income people.

McDermott said he will ask Gov. Chris Gregoire to appoint someone to fill the position until the next general election.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.