Candidates to be judge make cases

Questions at forum bypass issues, address experience and temperament

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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photoJosephine Townsend

The tables turned Monday for two Superior Court judges and judicial opponents as they faced a room full of lawyers and pleaded their case.

In a candidate forum hosted by the Clark County Bar Association, Judge John Wulle, Judge Diane Woolard and their respective opponents, David Gregerson and Josephine Townsend, fielded questions from local lawyers and private residents.

Unlike at other election forums, candidates for the nonpartisan position did not discuss politics, as they are barred from weighing in on such issues. But they did talk about their experience and what skills they could bring to the bench.

Monday's event, as well as a bar association preference poll, were a precursor to the Aug. 7 primary election, a race that will presumably decide the winners of both positions without a November election.

In the lunchtime forum at the Clark County Public Service Center in downtown Vancouver, it didn't take long for the chatter to fall on the judicial conduct allegations facing Wulle. The judge has a hearing Aug. 27 before a state judicial board to determine whether he violated codes of conduct in four courtroom incidents over the past three years.

The pending case was one of the first things the judge mentioned as he made opening remarks.

"I will be honest with you: There have been times in my courtroom that I've lost my temper," Wulle said.

Outbursts' goal was order

The judge went on to explain that when he's lost his temper, he was trying to maintain order in the court, such as at the hearing in which an attempted murder defendant was shouting obscenities at police officers.

"I believe that everyone in my courtroom should be treated fairly," he said, referring to others at the hearings.

Wulle then outlined his legal experience, which includes time at the Clark County Prosecutor's Office, in private practice, the state's Attorney General's Office and on the District Court bench.

When it was his turn to make a statement, Gregerson conceded that Wulle had more legal experience than he did, particularly in criminal law. But Gregerson said that he's confident and comfortable to take the bench, as he's been a private practice civil attorney for 20 years and his law firm also handles criminal defense.

Gregerson also said he has the judicial temperament to do so, alluding to the allegations against Wulle.

"I believe the judge should not be a polarizing figure on the bench," he said.

When it was Woolard's turn to speak, the judge highlighted her years of experience, including 12 years on the bench and years as a criminal defense attorney, which included time on a capital murder case.

She said that through her profession she "is trying to be aware of the people who are vulnerable, to make sure their needs are met."

Asked by a lawyer whether she has an unusually higher number of cases that are reversed on appeal, Woolard said: "We all get reversed. Reversal rates are generally the same among all the judges."

When Townsend, a lawyer in private practice and Vancouver's former city prosecutor, rose, she also touched on her background, mentioning her time as an administrative law judge with the Washington Department of Licensing.

She said attorneys know her for being "fierce in the courtroom."

"I can't say that I will never lose my temper," she said. "But I'm fair."

Questioned by an audience member about how her being fierce would show itself on the bench, Townsend said: "You turn fierceness into hard work."

Laura McVicker: twitter.com/col_courts; facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.