For several judicial races, the Aug. 7 primary is not a primary at all but a decisive event. Different rules apply in these races. Those rules are complicated and vary between local and state levels. But basically, any judicial candidate who receives a majority of votes in this primary (ballots were mailed Wednesday) will be declared the winner of the election. With that in mind, here are The Columbian’s endorsements for judicial races:Superior Court Judge, Dept. 2: By his conduct in and out of the courtroom, Judge John Wulle’s self-inflicted wounds have rendered him unworthy of being returned by voters to the bench he has occupied for 12 years. Challenger David Gregerson offers a composed demeanor and enough experience as a judge pro tempore to earn The Columbian’s endorsement.
This newspaper has endorsed Wulle previously, but we also have reprimanded him for improper behavior at a 2006 conference in Los Angeles. His profane outburst at that conference, accompanied by an obscene gesture and multifanged slur, resulted in a censure (the strongest discipline short of suspension) by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.
This year, Wulle is under review by the same commission for what it describes as “a pattern of discourteous, impatient and undignified behavior.” A public hearing has been rescheduled until Aug. 27, about three weeks after the decisive Aug. 7 primary.
All of this has led to a dramatic plunge in Wulle’s ratings by the Clark County Bar Association. This year’s bar poll shows a compilation of several areas, with Gregerson the favorite among 58 percent of respondents. Wulle drew only 41 percent support. By contrast, four years ago Wulle had 91 percent support. Such a stunning reversal in bar-poll opinion of a sitting judge is unprecedented in at least the past 12 years.
Wulle’s supporters essentially will argue, “Boys will be boys. Let’s overlook these indiscretions. He knows the law.” Sorry. Judges, more so than most other elected officials, should be stellar examples in and out of the courtroom. Wulle fails this test.
Gregerson, meanwhile, is campaigning impressively, building a broad base of support and showing himself to be highly capable of replacing the ill-tempered Wulle. The incumbent has said of his courtroom outbursts: “Sorry, the street kid from New York came out.” That’s no excuse, and as Gregerson adroitly explains, “A judge’s role in the courtroom is to mitigate tension, not inflame it.”
Superior Court Judge, Dept. 8: Incumbent Diane Woolard has served admirably since 2000. Challenger Josephine Townsend presents no compelling reason to replace Woolard, who also is active in her profession with key roles on several committees. The local bar poll gave Woolard overwhelming support (87 percent) and The Columbian endorses her as the clearly superior choice.
Washington Supreme Court: Two statewide races for Supreme Court positions likely will be decided in the Aug. 7 primary, and both incumbents have earned the right to continue on the high court. Justice Steven Gonzalez was appointed to the court earlier this year by Gov. Chris Gregoire and quickly distinguished himself in such a way as to draw support from multiple sources, including both of the major gubernatorial candidates, numerous bar polls and several newspapers.
Similar accolades have been accumulated by another incumbent, Justice Susan Owens, who has served on the high court since 2000.
Neither Gonzalez nor Owens is drawing serious competition from foes who have low-key campaigns. The Columbian recommends returning Gonzalez and Owens to the Supreme Court.