Attorney to challenge newly appointed judge in November

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Attorney Robert Vukanovich announced Thursday that he plans to challenge new Clark County Superior Court Judge Bernard Veljacic in the November general election.

Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Veljacic late last month to Superior Court Position 5. Veljacic is scheduled to be sworn in Friday at a ceremony at the Clark County Courthouse.

Vukanovich, 56, of Vancouver and Veljacic, 42, of Vancouver were among five candidates who sought appointment to the position.

“I am making this announcement prior to the swearing-in of the governor’s appointee, Bernard Veljacic, so that the citizens of Clark County know that they have a choice and can decide for themselves as to who is best-qualified for this position,” Vukanovich said Thursday in a written statement.

In a Clark County Bar Association survey in April, a majority of 188 respondents picked Vukanovich as their top choice for judge, about 38.8 percent to Veljacic’s 27.7 percent. Respondents also gave Vukanovich the highest rating for legal ability, judicial temperament, integrity and relevant legal experience.

However, Inslee chose Veljacic for the job.

The governor noted Veljacic founded a legal services clinic in 1991 to serve homeless people primarily in family law, immigration and debt cases. Inslee also noted Veljacic’s experience in criminal and civil law, and his volunteer work related to the legal profession.

Vukanovich is a former president of the Clark County Bar Association. He has practiced law for about 26 years, 15 of which have been in Clark County. His experience includes criminal defense, family law and civil cases. He also represents criminal defendants who cannot afford their own attorney.

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 in Clark County.

He said he’s lived in Clark County for more than 24 years and raised four children in the county. In contrast, he said, Veljacic moved to Clark County about a year ago, just before an unsuccessful bid for a previous Superior Court appointment.

Vukanovich has served on the board of trustees for the Volunteer Lawyers Program, conducted numerous family law clinics for those who can’t afford an attorney and volunteered for the Clark County Mock Trial program, in which high school students learn the law by trying a mock case in front of a county judge. He’s also been president of the Cascade Little League and a coach for the Clark County Youth Football program.

Veljacic said Thursday that even though he lived in Portland until a year ago, he has served Clark County through his work at the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for 14 years.

He said the governor’s selection process vets applicants for the qualities required to be a judge, specifically their legal knowledge and demeanor.

“I think the application process is very good at making that determination, a determination that can’t always be done in the election process,” Veljacic said.

“As a judge, you deal with very difficult matters requiring patience, expertise in the law and a certain demeanor,” he said. “The governor, after evaluating all of the five applicants, determined I was the best qualified for that.”

Veljacic succeeds Judge Rich Melnick, who was recently appointed to serve as a judge on the Division II Court of Appeals.

The election filing period is Monday through May 16. The winner of November’s election will serve out the last two years of Melnick’s four-year term.

The county has 10 Superior Court judge positions. Superior courts are the highest state trial courts, hearing felony cases and larger civil matters. Superior Court judges serve four-year terms and earn $151,809 per year, plus benefits.