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WA Supreme Court: Sanders leading Wiggins in tight race

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Nov. 2, 2010 at 10:40 pm with No Comments »
November 2, 2010 10:41 pm

Incumbent Justice Richard Sanders is beating Bainbridge Island attorney Charlie Wiggins in the race for the Supreme Court’s Position 6 seat.

Here’s the latest report from the AP’s Gene Johnson:

State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders found himself with a slim lead over challenger Charlie Wiggins on Tuesday night in a bid for a fourth term, even as some voters expressed concern over controversial remarks Sanders made about why blacks are more likely to be convicted of crimes than whites.

Sanders had a lead of 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent with about half the vote counted.

The libertarian Sanders has come under fire recently for insisting at a court meeting that racial bias plays no significant role in the criminal justice system. He said certain minority groups are “disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem.”

“I’ve been under brutal personal attacks,” Sanders said Tuesday. “There’s been an effort to demean me, to misrepresent my views. This is not the kind of campaign I wanted to run.”

Wiggins, a Bainbridge Island attorney who briefly served as a state appeals court judge, was leading in King County, the state’s most populous, while Sanders had big leads in Eastern Washington and more narrow leads in Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Sanders’ remarks caused The Seattle Times’ editorial board to recant its endorsement of him and instead come out in favor of Wiggins. Blacks make up 4 percent of the state’s population and nearly 20 percent of its prisoners, and studies around the country have linked such disproportionate numbers to drug enforcement policies, poverty and racial biases throughout society.

“It’s a big issue that has arisen at the last minute, and it throws a light on a pattern of statements by Justice Sanders that are not well-considered,” Wiggins said Tuesday.

Sanders said he has nothing to apologize for and he’s proud of his record standing up for the state Constitution and individual liberties even when it’s unpopular – a philosophy that has made him a frequent dissenter on the court.

Some of his supporters took issue with the uproar over his comments, noting that he has often sided with criminal defendants – including black criminal defendants – whose cases reached the high court.

But some voters said the remarks were troubling and cost Sanders their support.

“I was appalled,” said Ingrid Lewison, a 63-year-old Seattle Democrat. “If he loses the election it’s going to be because of that.”

Wiggins argued that the frequency of Sanders’ dissents suggests he’s outside the judicial mainstream. He points to cases where Sanders stood alone in writing in 2003 that the act of indecent exposure isn’t a crime against a person, and in 2007 in recommending the suspension, rather than disbarment, of a lawyer who sexually molested an 11-year-old boy who had been one of his clients.

In 2008, Sanders shouted “tyrant!” at then-U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey at a black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C. Sanders later released a statement saying he was speaking his conscience, and he cited inadequate access to the legal system for detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the importance of the Geneva Conventions.

Sanders had the backing of the Building Industry Association of Washington, the state Republican and Libertarian parties, and business groups.

Wiggins secured the endorsements of many prosecuting attorneys, the state Democratic Party, and the Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs.

Justice Jim Johnson and Chief Justice Barbara Madsen were re-elected. They did not have general election opponents because they won more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.

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