For the Washington Supreme Court:
Gonzalez, Owens, Ladenburg
July 8, 2012 — The judiciary is the quietest
branch of government. That can make it tough for voters
to size up candidates for crucially important positions
on the bench.
In Washington, D.C., most people probably wouldn’t
recognize Chief Justice John Roberts walking by on the
sidewalk. That’s doubly or triply true of members of
Washington’s Supreme Court, whose doings are little
noticed except when rare landmark decisions – like the
January ruling on public school funding – hit the news.
Voters face three choices for the high court in the Aug.
7 election. It’s a little misleading to call this a
primary, because primaries lead to runoffs – yet any one
of these three contests could be decided in August.
Under judicial election laws, a Supreme Court candidate
who wins a majority in the primary takes home the gold.
The “primary” then amounts to the final. Serious voters
will want to look at these races closely.
We hope they’ll look particularly closely at the contest
for Position 8, which pits Justice Steve Gonzalez
against Bruce Danielson.
Gonzalez, who was
appointed to the seat earlier this year by Gov. Chris
Gregoire, is superbly qualified. A graduate of Berkeley
School of Law, he has been a prosecutor for the City of
Seattle and the U.S. Justice Department. He served on
the King County Superior Court for 10 years before his
Danielson is not
remotely a match.
In this case, the endorsements say it all. Roughly 250
judges across the state support Gonzalez, including
current and retired Supreme Court justices, superior and
district court judges, magistrates and court
Tellingly, at least 10 Kitsap County judges have lent
their names to Gonzalez’s campaign. Danielson practices
law in Kitsap County and has unsuccessfully run for the
bench there. The county’s judges presumably know him
well. Enough said.
In the race for Position 2, 12-year incumbent
Susan Owens faces
challenges from Douglas McQuaid and Scott Stafne, who
practice in Seattle and Arlington, respectively.
Neither McQuaid nor
Stafne is mounting
much of a campaign; perhaps they are hoping for a fluke
victory (it happens in judicial races). Owens – who’s
been on the bench in some capacity for more than 30
years – enjoys broad support among those who know the
courts. She is unquestionably the superior candidate.
Position 9 offers the richest and most complex choice.
Former Justice Richard Sanders, who was unseated two
years ago, faces former Pierce County Executive John
Ladenburg, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer
and high-powered defense attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud.
Each has very considerable strengths.
McCloud may possess
the most formidable intellects. But Sanders has already
proven himself a doctrinaire libertarian on the court,
and McCloud to all appearances would be a fiery liberal.
We’d prefer someone with less of an agenda.
Hilyer might fit the
bill; he has plenty of trial court experience and is
well-regarded by other judges.
The most unconventional alternative is
Ladenburg. He’s spent
most of his career making things happen, most notably as
Pierce County’s chief executive and prosecuting
attorney. He offers the court an encyclopedic,
trench-level understanding of intricate local problems –
things like transportation, zoning, municipal government
and collective bargaining.
It’s been our experience, having watched Ladenburg for
many years, that he is willing to make tough, unpopular
decisions in the public interest. That’s a compelling
qualification for Washington’s court of last resort.
For judge: Hogan, Costello, Arend, Nelson, Rumbaugh
July 22, 2012 — You don’t have to be a time traveler to see
why citizens should educate themselves before voting for judges.
Just three years ago, a newly elected judge, Michael Hecht, left the
Pierce County Superior Court in disgrace after being convicted of felony
harassment and patronizing a prostitute.
Hecht was an obscure, marginal lawyer who saw his main chance in 2008
when Judge Sergio Armijo got poor ratings from the Tacoma-Pierce County
Bar Association. Armijo had a record to defend, and Hecht had none. His
penchant for addicted and desperate street kids surfaced after his
Lesson: A lower-tier incumbent can be far superior to a stealth
Pierce County citizens have choices for five Superior Court seats this
summer – an unusually high number, because attorneys are normally
hesitant to challenge sitting judges. Decisions, decisions:
• In Department 5, Jack Hill, who directed the county’s criminal
defense program for many years, has challenged Judge
Vicki Hogan, a 20-year veteran
of Superior Court.
Hogan is a widely respected, no-nonsense courtroom manager with immense
experience on the bench. She’s not perfect – no judge is – but on the
whole she’s quite impressive. There’s simply no reason to replace her.
• In Department 7, Judge Bev Grant faces
Jerry Costello, chief of the
homicide division in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Oddly, this
isn’t the seat Grant now holds; she’s leaving Department 18 to run for a
position left open by the retirement of Frederick Flemming.
Grant has been a disappointment in her nine years in the office – so
much so that the lawyers who responded to this year’s bar poll gave her
a staggering vote of no confidence. Most of them said that they couldn’t
expect her to handle their cases with fairness and competence; most said
they wouldn’t vote to re-elect her.
Costello, in contrast, is well-regarded in legal circles. He has a
formidable work ethic, a reputation for good legal judgment, and a
demeanor that inspires trust. He is the best choice for this seat.
• Department 12 offers a closer call. Incumbent Judge
Stephanie Arend is good at her
job; lawyers give her high marks for fairness and skill. Her opponent,
Antoni Froehling, is a public-spirited attorney who has served many
years on the Sumner School Board and in other volunteer positions.
He’d likely make a fine judge. But Arend already is a fine judge – no
likely about it. The county should keep her, and her 13 years of
experience, on the bench.
• There’s a slight echo of the Hecht vs. Armijo contest in Department
Judge Kathryn Nelson is not the
most distinguished judge on the court, but Pierce County has seen far
worse – and there’s no reason to believe her challenger, James
Schoenberger Jr., would be a trade up.
A transplant from Illinois, Schoenberger’s career in this area hasn’t
been outstanding. He appears to be running on a personal animus against
Nelson. There’s no hint of Hecht-style sleaze about Schoenberger, but we
think voters would be wise to stick with the incumbent.
• Department 18 – the one Grant is leaving – features a race
between two capable attorneys, Helen Whitener and
Whitener projects intelligence and dignity, essential qualities in a
judge. But Rumbaugh, who ran for the state Supreme Court in 2010, has
multiple advantages: roughly 20 more years of experience, more thorough
vetting by the legal profession and a longer record of accomplishment.
He’s a known quantity, and what’s known is good. We wouldn’t hesitate to
endorse Whitener over several other candidates on this ballot, but
Rumbaugh is too seasoned and capable to pass up.