Clark County Superior Court hopefuls tout records

8 of 9 candidates to replace judge speak to bar association

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Eight out of nine applicants seeking to succeed Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard made their pitches for support Wednesday to the Clark County Bar Association.

The association held an hourlong forum at the Clark County Public Service Center to give attorneys and members of the public a chance to question the applicants.

The bar association will poll members on which candidate they prefer and make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will appoint the successor in coming weeks. The new judge will have to stand for re-election in November to retain office.

Each applicant received five minutes Wednesday to present their qualifications. Then, members of the audience were allowed to pose a question.

A scheduling conflict prevented candidate Paulette Burgess, 43, a criminal defense attorney in Moses Lake, from attending, said Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Fairgrieve, who served as forum moderator.

Vancouver attorney Christopher Ramsay, 51, touted his multiple perspectives in the criminal justice system, including his roles as bailiff before becoming a lawyer, Denver, Colo. prosecutor and Clark County public defender.

Asked by an audience member how he would handle a defendant who chose to represent him or herself, Ramsay said he would allow the defendant to be heard while warning the defendant against incriminating himself.

Carin Schienberg, 56, of Vancouver has served as a full-time Clark County Superior Court commissioner since 2003.

"Being a judicial officer is about accepting responsibility on a daily basis, making hundreds of decisions that affect and impact hundreds of lives in the community, and that's what I've done," she said.

Schienberg already has received a recommendation for appointment from the National Women's Political Caucus of Washington.

Bernard Veljacic, Clark County civil deputy prosecutor, 41, recently moved to Vancouver from Portland in order to seek appointment as a judge.

He said he offers a spirit of community service from serving indigent clients in civil, criminal and family law in Seattle, as well as experience handling complex civil cases through his work at the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, where he represents the sheriff's office and other county departments.

The Vancouver Police Officers' Guild and the Clark County Deputy Sheriff Guild have endorsed him for the judge's position.

Vancouver attorney Louis Byrd Jr., 55, said he's best known in Clark County for representing indigent criminal defendants, but he also has experience with civil cases and federal cases. He's represented whistle-blowers from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, among other notable cases.

Vancouver attorney Michael Simon, 62, said he offers a varied civil law experience, including workers' compensation cases in federal court and real estate contracts.

He has received letters of support from a few Vancouver businesses, including Realvest Corp.

An audience member asked him what experience he has with working with the indigent. He said his volunteer activities with Medical Teams International in Guatemala have exposed him to extreme poverty.

Suzan Clark, 50, of Vancouver is president of the bar association. She said her legal career has spanned Oregon and Washington and includes civil, criminal, prosecution, defense, appellate and family law. She also has worked occasionally as a pro tem judge since 1999.

Asked about the use of social media, she said its use is limited as an attorney and should not be used at all as a judge.

Bob Vukanovich, 55, of Battle Ground also offers a variety of civil and criminal law experience. He said he has shown a record of public and community service and calm disposition under pressure.

James Gilligan, 51, of Centralia is a hearings judge with the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. He said he also offers varied experience in the law, including civil, criminal and family law.

An audience member asked him, as an outside resident, how he feels about his commitment to Clark County. Gilligan said he has conducted hearings in Clark County and has gotten to know its residents and businesses.

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.

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