Former Vancouver prosecutor challenges Woolard for judge

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Superior Court judge position 8 candidates

Diane Woolard

• Age: 68.

• Web: Judge Diane M. Woolard

• Money raised: $5,000.

• Major endorsements: Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, Vancouver Police Officers Guild and Clark County Sheriff's Deputies Guild.

Josephine Townsend

• Age: 52.

• Web: Josephine Townsend

• Money raised: Has not reported to the Public Disclosure Commission because Townsend plans to raise and spend less than $5,000.

• Major endorsements: Retired Clark County Superior Court Judge Edwin Poyfair.

photoDiane Woolard
photoJosephine Townsend

For the first time in 12 years, Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard has drawn a challenger: Vancouver's former city prosecutor, Josephine Townsend.

Townsend, now a private practice lawyer, has long sought the bench and said she chose to run against Woolard because she believes the judge has a history of not making the correct legal decisions.

"Judge Woolard is a very nice person, but she's not very consistent in her rulings," Townsend said. "I just think it's time for a change."

The voters will decide between the two in the Aug. 7 primary election. Unlike other races, the winner in judicial races is presumably decided in the primary election.

Townsend said Woolard's decisions are frequently overturned on appeal.

In response to Townsend's allegations, Woolard said that all of the 10 Superior Court judges are sometimes overturned on appeal and that her reversal number is no different than the other judges.

Woolard pointed to her bevy of key supporters: Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, the Clark County Sheriff's Guild, Vancouver Police Officers Guild and several sitting Superior Court judges as a sign of her credibility. In addition, Woolard picked up 87 percent of the votes to Townsend's 13 percent in a Clark County Bar Association preference poll.

Woolard said she has the experience, including 12 years as a judge and 15 years as a criminal defense and family law attorney, and the track record for the position.

"I've done family law. I've done Drug Court. I've done homicide (cases) and I've done civil litigation," the judge said. "And I've enjoyed it all."

Townsend, a New York native, is best known for serving as Vancouver's city prosecutor. She resigned in 2005 after three years on the job because of irreconcilable differences with her boss and to mount a campaign for the bench (she unsuccessfully vied for the District Court judgeship). She servedas a hearings examiner for the Department of Licensing from December 2006 to March of this year.

Regarding Townsend's departure from the city, Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe was quoted in a 2005 Columbian article as saying: "Josie has a management style and philosophy that's not necessarily compatible with mine."

Townsend said she was hired by Gathe to implement new policies in the office, some of which she said did not make her popular among her counterparts.

"When you are a change agent in any organization, you have to understand that you will not make changes that everyone will like," Townsend said by email, later adding: "Some folks called me a bulldog — and I will admit that I was — I did not really know anyone in town, and so creating an even playing field — which meant everyone was accountable, prosecutors and defendants alike — was easier."

Townsend was investigated by the Washington State Bar Association for allegedly withholding evidence from the defense in a case she handled as city prosecutor. The bar diverted her case, stating in a 2006 letter to the complainant: "Based on the information we received, the majority of the issues raised in the grievance could not be established by a clear preponderance of the evidence. … However, we remain concerned regarding Ms. Townsend's failure to provide potentially exculpatory evidence to (the defendant)," according to bar paperwork.

A diversion means the bar did find some fault, but felt it could be handled with training or ethics education.

Townsend said the case involved allegations of sexual assault and that the evidence that she withheld were follow-up interviews with the two alleged victims. She said that since both women gave similar statements as they did initially to police, she didn't feel she had to release the information to the defense.

"I learned it should have been released to the defendant. That was the mistake the bar said that I made, which I agreed to, and only that charge was diverted," Townsend said by email. "I learned from it and moved on."

In addition to her current law practice, Townsend serves as a guardian ad litem, or a court advocate, for children or vulnerable adults.She said that if elected, she will request to be a judge in the family law division. The Superior Court judges occasionally rotate assignments.

"I think people deserve someone in family court who wants to be there," she said.

Woolard said her passion on the bench is protecting at-risk people, such as juveniles, child-abuse victims and vulnerable adults. She sits on several statewide boards for guardianship cases and has also spoken to many community and professional groups regarding vulnerable adults.

"One of the things I feel very strongly about is giving back to my profession," Woolard said.

As for campaign fundraising, both candidates have stayed relatively low-profile; Woolard has raised $5,000 and Townsend did not file paperwork with the Public Disclosure Commission because she plans to raise less than $5,000.

Ballots were mailed to voters today.

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