This editorial will appear in Thursday’s News Tribune:
Voters should return the sitting Supreme Court justices and Pierce County Judge Sergio Armijo to the bench.
The state Supreme Court races this year are largely quiet affairs, for better and worse.
Washington certainly doesn’t need a repeat of the nasty battles for the bench that marred the 2006 election.
But this year, the campaigns have slipped so far below the radar that voters risk missing what might be their only opportunity to weigh in.
The new top two primary doesn’t apply to nonpartisan positions, meaning judicial races will continue to be decided in the primary if any candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. That will happen in at least one race, and probably both.
There are a few reasons for the sleepy campaigns. The ballot is more crowded this year, and special interest groups that poured money into the 2006 races have turned their attention elsewhere.
Meanwhile, no challenger has mounted a vigorous campaign – which probably has as much to do with the sitting justices themselves as the lack of money for opposition.
Justices Charles Johnson and Mary Fairhurst are smart, capable jurists.
Johnson in particular has shown himself a valuable member of the court. He’s humble enough to admit that he’s come a long way in the 18 years since he was a Gig Harbor solo practitioner who pulled off stunning upset of a highly regarded chief justice.
Today, he clearly has the respect of his colleagues, who often turn to him to write opinions on their behalf in high-profile cases. He’s not always on the prevailing side, but he is dependably a voice of reason and common sense.
Of his two opponents, James Beecher and C.F. “Frank” Vulliet, only Beecher is a serious contender. (Vulliet no longer practices law and is rated not qualified by the King County Bar Association and the Municipal League of King County.)
Beecher, a senior partner in a Seattle law firm, does not have a beef with Johnson but with the court as a whole. He wants to see faster handling of cases and fewer fractured court decisions. Both are worthy goals, but Johnson doesn’t appear an impediment to either.
In the other Supreme Court race, Mary Fairhurst has drawn only one challenger. Michael Bond is a Seattle attorney specializing in construction cases who says his experience as a trial lawyer and his libertarian bent make him the better candidate.
Fairhurst may not have logged a lot of courtroom time in her years in the state attorney general’s office, but she did develop expertise on a wide variety of issues. She is respected in her profession and has proved a thoughtful justice who works to move the court to consensus. Voters should return her to the court.
Also gracing Pierce County voters’ ballots this year is a single contested race for Superior Court. Tacoma attorney Michael Hecht is taking a second run at unseating Judge Sergio Armijo.
Neither candidate responded to our requests for an interview, nor have they have submitted to the local bar association’s rating process. Armijo did not fare well in a recent survey of Pierce County attorneys and jurors, but the 14-year veteran remains a better candidate for the bench than Hecht.