This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Richard B. Sanders is one of a kind on a court that often doesn’t see matters his way. We like that about him, and we like that about the state Supreme Court.
Sanders is easily the most controversial justice of the state’s nine.
He’s earned the ire of police and prosecutors for his unyielding defense of defendants’ rights. He did time in the national spotlight a couple of years back for yelling “Tyrant!” at former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
He’s also skirted the boundaries of good sense, if not judicial ethics, by chatting up sex offenders at the McNeil Island sex predator center and by not recusing himself from a court decision that posed a possible conflict of interest.
But here’s the rub: Besides being a thorough supporter of open government, Sanders is also the court’s biggest champion of individual rights. He forces the court to deal with basic constitutional issues. Having his voice in the mix as decisions are made ensures stronger rulings, whether his opinion carries the day or not.
He also is, for better or worse, absolutely devoted to the letter of the law. Sanders reads statutes and the constitution for exactly what they say, not what he thinks they mean to say or should say.
His opponent, Bainbridge Island attorney and former Court of Appeals Judge Charlie Wiggins, criticizes Sanders for ruling that a defendant who cooked meth in front of a girlfriend’s children had not injured “dependent children” because they weren’t his children.
Sanders’ response: “That is what the law says.” Such strict allegiance to legal text can produce aggravating – and sometimes illogical – results, but it also can be an effective antidote to judicial activism.
While we may not want a Sanders court, we do think there is value in having one Justice Sanders to keep individual liberties at the forefront of the court’s deliberations.
Wiggins also has an impressive legal mind and would make a fine justice. But we see his more mainstream approach to the law already reflected in the court’s other members.
In the only contested Pierce County District Court race on the ballot, voters are faced with an enviable choice between two fine candidates, Claire Sussman and Kevin McCann. Either would be a strong addition to the bench.
Both are highly intelligent, well-spoken and dedicated attorneys who have given much to their communities through their work and volunteer service. Voters should have no qualms about voting for either one of them. In fact, they would be stellar candidates even if they were running for a Superior Court seat.
We give the edge to Sussman, mainly because she has a more balanced legal history, having worked six years in the Pierce County prosecutor’s office on cases ranging from DUI to sexual assault, as a pro-tem District Court judge since 2002 and as a private defense attorney since 2004. That varied work history gives her a valuable perspective that would be hard for any candidate to match.
McCann comes very close. Although he has worked in the Pierce County prosecutor’s office his entire career – handling high-profile, complex criminal cases – he has also served as a pro tem judge in four different jurisdictions.
Sussman is passionate about the law and about providing equal access to justice through the “people’s court” at the District Court level. We recommend her election.