Candidates at Monday’s forum didn’t talk about taxes, health care or replacement of the Interstate 5 bridge.
Instead, they talked about what it means to be a judge and, ironically, the importance of not being political.
“This isn’t like most campaigns,” Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson said, as she introduced the candidates for Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court. “The people you want to hear your cases aren’t the people who already have their minds made up.”
Candidates for the two appellate courts have varying backgrounds and varying ideas of the positions, as they told a small crowd packed in a sixth floor room of the Clark County Public Service Center in downtown Vancouver. Some of them criticized their opponent for making the job too much about politics.
The event, hosted by the Clark County Bar Association and the League of Women Voters, drew Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Jill Johanson and Longview attorney Joseph Daggy. The two are vying to replace current Court of Appeals Judge C.C. Bridgewater, who didn’t file for candidacy because of illness.
Also at the forum were candidates for the state Supreme Court position 6, which include incumbent Richard Sanders, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff and former Court of Appeals Judge Charlie Wiggins.
The candidates for Supreme Court position 1, Stan Rumbaugh and Jim Johnson, could not attend.
Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races are decided at the primary election if any candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes. Otherwise, the top two candidates go on to the general election.
Speaking first, appeals court candidate Daggy said he has broad experience as a private practice attorney, including in criminal and family law, that will benefit him as a judge in hearing a wide range of cases.
“You might say I’ve handled virtually everything,” he said.
He spoke at length about the responsibilities of an appellate judge — to scrutinize decisions of trial court judges and decide whether legal procedure was followed. He promised to do that without a political agenda.
“The most important part of being a judge is not to legislate as a judge or create new law,” he said.
Johanson went into depth about her résumé. She has a legal background that includes 11 years as a deputy prosecutor and eight years as a Superior Court judge.
“I have a lot of criminal law experience, which I think is important for this job because 67 percent of appeals cases are criminal,” she said.
To highlight her qualifications, Johanson said she’s been endorsed by fellow Court of Appeals judges as well as numerous Superior Court judges in Southwest Washington, including six in Clark County and one retired judge.
Next, Superior Court candidates Chushcoff and Wiggins took aim at incumbent Sanders, saying he’s brought his political agenda to the bench in his 15-year tenure. Sanders is known for his libertarian views.
“I chose to seek this office because I was concerned that the passions of political beliefs were interfering with the office,” Chushcoff said. “(Sanders) has shown he’s an advocate for the accused.”
As evidence, Chushcoff noted how Sanders voted against Washington’s three-strikes law for repeat offenders and his stance against the death penalty.
Wiggins also alluded to Sanders when asked a question about the fairness of the judicial system. “Sometimes we don’t have a level playing field,” he said. “This happens when you have judges with special interests. I will resist that.”
In response, Sanders acknowledged that “I bring an independent voice to the court.” But he said his main passion is upholding individual rights and that he has a track record of doing so.
“On the Supreme Court, I’m an advocate for the law and I think that’s what it’s all about,” Sanders said.