Hopefuls emerge for Clark County bench job

Five have applied so far to succeed Judge Diane Woolard

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Public meeting

■ What: Clark County Superior Court judge candidates forum

■ When: Noon to 1 p.m. March 20

■ Where: Clark County Public Service Center, Sixth Floor, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

At least five candidates are seeking to succeed retiring Judge Diane Woolard on the Clark County Superior Court bench.

The lineup, so far, includes Superior Court Commissioner Carin Schienberg; Bernard Veljacic, Clark County civil deputy prosecutor; Suzan Clark, president of the Clark County Bar Association; and two other private attorneys, Michael Simon and Robert Vukanovich.

Health problems have forced Woolard, 68, to retire, effective March 31. She has been on paid medical leave for the past three months because of complications related to her epilepsy.

Gov. Jay Inslee will appoint her successor some time after the March 15 application deadline. It will be the first time the new governor has selected a judge for the county. He also will appoint three other judges to fill vacancies in the State Court of Appeals, Division 3; Benton and Franklin County Superior Court; and King County Superior Court.

The new judges will have to stand for election in November to retain office.

The state's Superior Court judges serve four-year terms and earn $148,832 per year, plus benefits; they'll receive a pay bump to $151,809 per year, effective Sept. 1.

The Clark County Bar Association plans to poll members on which local candidate they prefer and make a recommendation to the governor, who then follows up with additional vetting. The bar association will hold a candidates forum from noon to 1 p.m. March 20, on the sixth floor of the Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St. The event is open to the public.

Here is some of what the candidates say they have to offer:

The commissioner

As a Superior Court commissioner for nearly 15 years, Schienberg, 56, has had a hand in the personal lives of thousands of county residents. Like judges, commissioners sit on the bench. They handle just about everything except trials.

The Vancouver resident has played a large role in the county's family law cases, deciding custody of children and division of property during the turmoil of divorce.

"I have demonstrated the ability to resolve issues that impact people's daily lives in a thoughtful, judicial and efficient manner," she said. "I understand the issues that Superior Court is facing and hope to provide leadership which will better serve and respond to the needs of the community."

A 1988 graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, Schienberg practiced criminal defense and family law in a private practice from 1989 until 2003.

She served as a part-time commissioner between 1998 and 2003, when she became full-time.

Law was a second career, after teaching at the Washington School for the Deaf.

The deputy prosecutor

Veljacic, 41, of Vancouver serves as counsel for Clark County on civil cases involving Clark County government and has represented Superior Court judges, the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and county commissioners.

Veljacic said his experiences growing up in a low-income family in East Los Angeles and working his way through college give him empathy with some of the underprivileged litigants who end up in Superior Court.

"These things prepared me for judicial service, because they left me with a lasting humility and a sense of patience," he said. "Humility will help me remember that I am not above the law, and patience will do me well as I resolve the disputes of those who come before me seeking justice."

Veljacic co-founded and directed Union Gospel Mission Legal Services (now Open Door Legal Services) in Seattle in 1999, less than a year after graduating with a law degree from Seattle University. In that role, he represented homeless men and women in family law, immigration and debt cases. On the side, he represented criminal defendants. He also did a short stint after graduation handling industrial insurance and worker's compensation cases.

He joined the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Office in 2001. Between 2009 and 2012, he served on the State Bar Association's Character and Fitness Board, which makes decisions on whether bar applicants would be ethical and capable lawyers.

The bar association president

As president of the Clark County Bar Association, Clark, 50, of Vancouver, heads up a membership of 418. She has been a private attorney since 1994 and a pro-tem Superior Court commissioner since 1999.

"I would like to be a judge to serve my community and my profession," Clark said in an email. "I think I would bring a unique breadth and depth of experience to the job and that I have the patience and temperament to be a good judge."

In her private practice, she has represented more than 30 defendants in murder and attempted murder cases, as well as other high-profile cases. She also practices family and real estate law.

After graduating in 1986 from the University of Oregon Law School, she began her career as a prosecutor in Oregon and, then, Washington.

In addition to the bar association, she has served in various leadership roles for the Clark County Criminal Defense Bar and the Clark County Bench Bar Committee.

She has volunteered her legal services to the YWCA Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, the Oregon Food Bank and the St. Andrews Legal Clinic.

The private attorney

Vukanovich, 55, of Battle Ground would set aside a private criminal and family law practice to serve as judge.

"As a judge, I feel I can do a good job," he said. "I would bring a lot of experience to the bench. I also believe I'm very level-tempered, so I think I have a good judicial temperament. … When I look at problems, I look at them from a very analytical standpoint, which is needed on the bench."

He said his experience in real estate sets him apart from some of the other applicants.

After graduating in 1988 from Southwestern Law School-Los Angeles, he practiced real estate and business law in California and then went into real estate development in the Greater Portland area. He served as counsel for Thompson Construction Co. in Portland from 1997 to 1999, when he founded his private practice.

He also volunteers for the Volunteer Lawyers Program and has been president of the Clark County Bar Association.

The homeowners association attorney

photoMichael Simon

Simon, 62, of Vancouver also has experience in real estate law, but as a shareholder and lawyer at Landerholm, he focuses on representing homeowners associations. He also represents clients in personal injury, land-use and zoning cases.

After receiving his law degree in 1980 from Lewis & Clark Law School, he joined the Prosecuting Attorney's Office to represent the county in cases involving Superior Court, the Sheriff's Department and other county agencies. He has joined various private practices and had his own practice between 2004 and 2006.

"I probably have the most varied experience than any of the candidates," he said. "I love the variety of practicing the law, and there certainly would be that on the bench."

He also has been in officer positions, including president, for the Clark County Bar Association.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.