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Yakima Herald-Republic

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Despite uneasiness over her decisions, we support incumbent for state Supreme Court

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 When you go through her campaign materials, one thing certainly stands out about state Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst: She comes highly recommended for re-election to a second six-year term on the state's highest court.

She is opposed by Michael Bond, a Seattle attorney.

Six of the nine current justices (all but Richard Sanders and Jim Johnson) and six who have retired from the high court are listed on her campaign Web site as supporting her. So is Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and former governors Gary Locke and Albert D. Rosellini, both Democrats, and John Spellman, a Republican.

Suffice it to say, her list of supporters is long and impressive.

That said, we point out that we've been around the campaign block a few times and realize that incumbents have all kinds of built-in advantages, not the least of which is the fact people like to back a winner.

But we're not going to just jump on the bandwagon. After our joint editorial board interview with the two candidates and considerable discussion among ourselves, we'll give a slight nod to Fairhurst for a second term.

We have taken exception to her positions on some recent Supreme Court rulings and found Bond to be a credible candidate, certainly no extremist. But the challenger -- whose only judicial experience as such appears to be as a judge advocate in the Marine Corps from 1975 to 1982 -- simply does not make a strong enough case for unseating a sitting justice.

Fairhurst's experience and the intellect she brings to the court cannot be dismissed. Nor can her consistently high qualification ratings by attorney organizations be ignored.

Something that appeared to come through as she defended her record was that, as a member of the high court, she feels she rules on the law as it is, not as someone thinks it should be. But given several 5-4 rulings by the court in the past six years, obviously what the law says or how it is measured against constitutional muster is open to interpretation. And we don't always agree with Fairhurst's interpretation.

The Seattle Times compiled a list of 17 decisions involving government agencies and found the incumbent siding with government 15 times -- or 88 percent of the time. Of course, that's not always a bad thing, although it brings to mind the fact that before she joined the court she was an assistant state attorney general -- a government lawyer -- for 16 years.

In Hangartner v. City of Seattle, the issue before the court was withholding documents from citizens, citing attorney-client privilege. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the public agency. Fairhurst sided with the public agency.

Another high-profile public records case, Soter v. Cowles Publishing Co., involved a schoolboy allergic to peanuts who died after eating a school lunch containing peanut products. The Spokesman-Review newspaper demanded to see results of the investigation and the Spokane School District refused. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the school district, again citing attorney-client privilege, with Fairhurst again in the majority.

Both, in our view, represented unjustified narrowing of the state Public Records Law through expansion of attorney-client privilege. And both were 5-4 rulings, revealing a badly split court.

Realistically, Fairhurst would have to be viewed as a heavy favorite for re-election. We're not going to buck that trend. But we do think the incumbent should be aware of the uneasiness with her continual support of narrowly held high-court rulings that seemingly go against the principle of openness in government.

The public's right to know is a pretty basic thing with us. We'd like to see more attention paid to it by Fairhurst during the incumbent's second term.

* Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Michael Shepard, Sarah Jenkins, Bill Lee and Karen Troianello.


Elofson's skills give the edge in close match

Thursday, July 31, 2008 We hate it when this happens. Only one of the eight Superior Court positions on the ballot this year is being contested and it pits two excellent candidates against each other.

That would be Yakima attorneys David Elofson and Rob Lawrence-Berrey. They are seeking the seat held for the last 20 years by Robert Hackett, who is not seeking re-election.

The fact that two quality candidates have come forward is pretty much a win/win situation for the public, but it does make it tough when it comes to recommending one over the other. This editorial board talked to them in a side-by-side interview, did the research and we'll go with Yakima attorney David Elofson on a close call.

Our decision was influenced by a Yakima County Bar Association poll released Tuesday that showed 85 local attorneys giving both good marks.

In the five categories -- legal ability, temperament, integrity, relevant legal experience and diligence and dedication -- Elofson picked up 41 per cent of the total votes in the "exceptionally well qualified" category and 35 percent of the "well qualified" ratings. Lawrence-Berrey's numbers were 24 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in the same categories.

So while the ratings were close, as we expected them to be, Elofson consistently edged Lawrence-Berrey, a former president of the county bar association. That's pretty much the way we saw it in our discussions before the poll came out.

We were impressed with both. But only one will win the seat in the Aug. 19 primary election.

Both are civil litigants, but we believe Elofson will have no problem joining with the seven other Superior Court judges to deal with a huge case backlog in both civil and criminal cases. During our interview, he acknowledged the backlog has gotten worse for a variety of reasons. He feels all the judges must work together and with all the lawyers involved, including the prosecutor's office, to expedite the cases and move them through the system.

"We've gotten into some bad habits" that he wants to help change. He thinks that, on balance, the current judges are a good group and are becoming more aggressive in moving cases along.

During our interview, Lawrence-Berrey was a big believer in the need for "hard-working" judges making a difference. We believe that description best fits Elofson.

In him we see a well-qualified judge who will be noted for an unflappable, steady demeanor. He represents the potential for a well-organized and productive courtroom in a local judicial system that can use all of his type of skills that it can get.

* Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Michael Shepard, Sarah Jenkins, Bill Lee and Karen Troianello.

 

 


 
 

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