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Yakima Herald-Republic




Qualifications earn Gonzalez full term on Supreme Court

July 15, 2012 — Washington state Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez offers experience as a King County Superior Court judge, as a federal prosecutor who helped win a conviction in a high-profile international terrorism case, and as a justice who has served one judicial term as the court’s newest member. Gov. Chris Gregoire late last year appointed Gonzalez to fill the position that opened when Justice Gerry Alexander reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Gonzalez’s opponent, Kitsap County attorney Bruce Danielson, has practiced law for 28 years and worked in criminal law, civil litigation and bankruptcy. But he brings no experience as a judge or prosecutor; he ran unsuccessfully for Kitsap County Superior Court judge in 2004 and 2008 and for county prosecutor in 2010.

Based on experience and qualifications, this is an easy call: The Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board endorses Steven Gonzalez for a full six-year term on the state Supreme Court.

Gonzalez brings far more than a strong résumé to the state’s highest court. In meeting with the editorial board, Gonzalez displayed the judicial knowledge and temperament that as an assistant U.S. attorney helped convict "Millennium Bomber" Ahmed Ressam in 2001, and that as a judge helped him win three elections in his decade on the King County Superior Court. His skills have won endorsements from the other eight Supreme Court justices along with gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna, a Republican, and Jay Inslee, a Democrat.

Gonzalez came across as a cautious justice who respects the state constitution and for judicial precedent; a law shouldn’t change just because the justices do, he said. He also has worked extensively at improving the judicial system to allow everyone a fair trial, He is the former chairman of the state Access to Justice Board, in which he worked to improve accessibility for those with physical disabilities, such as those in wheelchairs or in need of sign-language services, and interpreters for those whose first language is not English. He has also worked with the "plain language" movement to make court documents more readable for citizens.

Equal access also played a role in Gonzalez’s work as the former co-chairman of the Race and Criminal Justice System Task Force. Gonzalez, the second Latino to serve on the state Supreme Court, said he found increasing costs have hindered equal treatment for all in the court system. "Each one of us is a minority when we come before the court," Gonzalez told the Herald-Republic.

Gonzalez is running a determined campaign, raising more than $200,000 and meeting statewide with civic groups and members of the judiciary community.

Danielson has raised no money, has not been seen on the campaign trail and ignored repeated requests to meet with the Herald-Republic editorial board. We can only speculate why he is running at all — perhaps he wants to fly under the radar into a relatively low-profile position that will be decided in the Aug. 7 primary election, where turnout will be lower than in the November general election.

The voters now have the opportunity to elect a well-qualified sitting judge to a full term on the state’s high court. Any Supreme Court candidate who gets more than 50 percent in the primary automatically wins election, which in this two-way race means the winner will be determined Aug. 7. Voters who get their ballots in the mail this week would do well to mark the box for Steven Gonzalez.

Return Owens to third term on State Supreme Court

July 15, 2012 — The Aug. 7 primary could decide the race for Washington state Supreme Court Justice Position 2, in which incumbent Susan Owens is seeking a third term against challengers Scott Stafne and Douglas McQuaid, This is a classic case of an established justice facing insurgent outsiders who are, in essence, running against the system; Stafne and McQuaid are longtime practicing attorneys who offer no experience as judges.

In this case, Owens’ experience and temperament give her the clear advantage. Based on a joint interview with the three candidates, the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board endorses Susan Owens for a third Supreme Court term.

Owens brought judicial experience when she was first elected statewide in 2000, having served as a District Court judge in Clallam County and as a tribal court judge. Serving at the local level, she told the board, "was a very real exercise of court principles in action," one she said has proved valuable as a Supreme Court justice.

Owens noted that with the present makeup of the court, she will be third in seniority come January. She asserted that her tenure allows her to become an increasingly influential member of the court. Owens can effectively claim a range of judicial experience that brings depth and background to her legal decisions.

Stafne’s résumé includes a variety of cases in his Snohomish County law practice. He accused the court system — the Supreme Court especially — of working poorly, but he didn’t articulate clearly why that is or how he would improve the court’s function.

McQuaid decried the influence of money in the campaign but didn’t adequately explain how it compromises the system — or any rulings by the court in general or Owens in particulary.

The King County Bar Association rated Owens as well qualified and Stafne as not qualified. McQuaid refused to take part in the bar association’s survey. As of Friday, Owens had raised just shy of $77,000 and spent just over $41,000 on her re-election bid. Neither of the challengers has reported raising or spending any money on their respective campaigns.

Under state law, a Supreme Court candidate who wins more than 50 percent in the primary wins the election. Susan Owens is easily the best choice of the three and deserves re-election.

• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello., P.O. Box 1460, Silverdale, WA  98383
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