Judge Wulle falls in bar association's poll

Group usually backs judges for re-election; this candidate faces hearing on his behavior

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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A majority of local lawyers polled do not support the re-election of Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle, whose courtroom behavior has drawn allegations from a state judicial board.

The Clark County Bar Association on Monday endorsed private practice lawyer David Gregerson over Wulle. With 216 votes tallied, Gregerson received 58 percent to Wulle's 41 percent. There are 415 lawyers in the local bar association.

Responding to the poll, Wulle said, "As a judge, I don't have the chance to be friends and socialize with attorneys at the same level as he can. I have to be more reserved and apart from them."

The judge added he believes the bar association members favored Gregerson because Gregerson is the bar's secretary, so lawyers know him socially.

Gregerson said he was pleased with the results.

"I work hard to make myself known within the bar," Gregerson said. "I think it demonstrates that there's a time and a place for change. But the voters will get the last words."

The bar association released the results of the preference poll, which takes into consideration legal ability, judicial temperament, integrity and relevant legal experience.

The poll considers the candidates of the Aug. 7 primary election. Unlike other races, in judicial races with only two candidates, the primary election decides the winner.

In the categories of judicial temperament and integrity, Gregerson was rated "extremely well qualified" or "well qualified" roughly twice as often as the incumbent.

Wulle was rated "extremely well qualified" twice as often in the category of relevant legal experience.

Gregerson was rated "extremely well qualified" or "well qualified" for his legal ability slightly more often than the judge.

As rare as it is for a Superior Court judge to draw an opponent, it's even more rare for lawyers not to back a sitting judge. In the judicial races over the past 12 years, the bar association has always supported the incumbent, according to The Columbian's archives.

In fact, when Wulle faced an opponent four years ago, the judge picked up 91 percent of the votes in the bar poll.

While the poll results are an endorsement, they have no bearing on the outcome of the election.

The poll "is an opportunity (for lawyers) to voice their opinion on who the better candidate is," said bar association President John Fairgrieve. "We wanted the electorate to have that opinion."

A pending state judicial board investigation of Wulle has colored the race. The judge faces allegations by the Washington Commission on Judicial Conduct of "engaging in discourteous and undignified behavior." The charges concern his treatment of defendants in four court hearings over the past three years.

The judge has a hearing Aug. 27 before the board to determine what, if any, punishment will be imposed.

Wulle was previously an assistant attorney general and District Court judge before taking the Superior Court bench in 2000. Gregerson, a Vancouver lawyer for 20 years, is a principal of the law firm, Gregerson & Langsdorf, and specializes in civil law.

Woolard-Townsend

Meanwhile, local lawyers overwhelmingly favor Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard against her opponent. Woolard captured 87 percent of the votes to attorney Josephine Townsend's 13 percent. Woolard was the clear favorite in all the categories.

Woolard has also been a Superior Court judge since 2000; her opponent, Townsend, is Vancouver's former city prosecutor, and is currently a private practice lawyer.

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