Thoughts from a Yellow Dog Democrat living in Olympia, in the great BLUE state of Washington

I am a liberal because it is the political philosophy of freedom and equality. And I am a progressive because it is the political path to a better future. And I am a Democrat because it is the political party that believes in freedom, equality and progress. -- Digby

Sunday, June 18, 2006

State Supreme Court Races

Our Supreme Court will likely be looking at issues like election reform, redistricting, same sex marriage, Real ID implementation, death penalty, and Hanford clean up over the coming months and years. After Rossi v Gregoire the Right decided to target our Supreme Court and even though this race is non partisan we Democratic PCOs have an obligation to become informed of theses issues, candidates, and the potential effect on us.

The Supreme Court is the state's highest court. Its opinions are published, become the law of the state, and set precedent for subsequent cases decided in Washington.
The Court has original jurisdiction of petitions against state officers and can review decisions of lower courts if the case involves a question of the legality of a tax, duty, assessment, toll, or municipal fine, or the validity of a statute.
Direct Supreme Court review of a trial court decision is permitted if the action involves a state officer, a trial court has ruled a statute or ordinance unconstitutional, conflicting statutes or rules of law are involved, or the issue is of broad public interest and requires a prompt and ultimate determination. All cases in which the death penalty has been imposed are reviewed directly by the Supreme Court.

Motions to be determined by the Court, and petitions for review of Court of Appeals decisions, are heard by five-member departments of the Court. A less-than-unanimous vote on a petition requires that the entire court consider the matter.
The Supreme Court is the final rule-making authority for all of the state's courts. Though local courts make their own rules of procedure, these rules must conform to those established by the Supreme Court. In addition, the Supreme Court has administrative responsibility for operation of the state court system.

The nine Supreme Court justices are elected to six-year terms. Each term is staggered to maintain continuity of the court. Vacancies are filled by appointment of the Governor until the next general election.

Current justices up for election in 2006 are:

* Gerry L. Alexander, Chief Justice
* Tom Chambers, Justice
* Susan J. Owens, Justice

Chief Justice Gerry L. Alexander. Gerry Alexander was first elected to a seat on
the Washington Supreme Court in 1994. In 2000, Justice Chambers was elected to the Washington State Supreme Court. On November 7, 2000, Judge Susan Owens was elected the seventh woman to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court.

David Postman, a reporter for The Seattle Times, has been following these races and quoted Judge Alexander in the June 16, 2006 issue:

"A judge should not have an agenda," he said. "A judge should enter the courtroom ... with no preconceived notion as to how that case should come out, but rather should apply the law as best that judge can understand it as a human and apply it to the facts of the case."

Alexander said he knows voters are confused by judicial elections and frustrated at how little judges can say because of ethical constraints.
He tells them to "study the candidates and vote for the judicial candidate they think is most likely, by virtue of their temperament.

The Race
Supreme Court Position 2
• Susan J. Owens - Incumbent
o Website:
• Stephen Johnson
o Website:
• Barrie Althoff
• Terrence A. Carroll
• Geoffrey Crooks
• David A. Larson
• Douglas A. Schafer
• Jeffrey C. Sullivan
Supreme Court Position 8
• Gerry L. Alexander - Incumbent
o Website:
• John Groen
o Website:
Supreme Court Position 9

• Tom Chambers - Incumbent
• Seth A. Fine
• James Foley
• Kenneth E. Grosse

The Best Funded Challengers
John M. Groen is challenging Gerry Alexander. Postman reports that at the recent Republican convention:

An attorney with the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, Groen mentioned property rights four times . . .

It appears he is trying to capitalize on the extensive press he received during his fights to kill the Seattle monorail in the last couple of years. Groen, 46, is expected to get heavy backing from the politically potent Building Industry Association of Washington. He is a member and past chairman of the BIAW's legal trust committee, and the association is a client of his Bellevue law firm, Groen, Stephens & Klinge, as are other builder interests.

Groen is a senior consulting attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit, public interest law firm that litigates for property rights in land-use and environmental cases.

State Sen. Stephen L. Johnson (R-Kent) has been registered with the Public Disclosure Commission and raising money to run for the Supreme Court for months but only recently announced that he is challenging Justice Susan Owens. He plays himself as an outsider taking on not just the incumbent, but the state's legal establishment. Johnson will not participate in ratings done by the King County Bar Association.

Since Johnson has been a State Senator, Project Vote Smart ( has rated him on the issues. Generally he is anti-choice, pro-business, got a 100% rating from the American Conservative Union, only 25% from the Washington State PTA, among other ratings.

Currently no candidate registered with the Public Disclosure Commission appears at this time to have significant funding to challenge Justice Chambers.

Funding & PACs
A group called FAIRPAC registered on April 25th with the state as a PAC, or political action committee. FAIRPAC is going to raise money on behalf of judicial candidates Owens, Chambers, Alexander.

The arrival of FAIRPAC is good news because another PAC, the Constitutional Law PAC, has been registered since late last year. They currently only have about $4,600 in their treasury but their mission is to fund a slate of conservative judges to take out Owens, Chambers, and Alexander and they are currently actively fund raising.

A quick cross reference of Con Law PAC’s contributors shows nearly 90% overlap with donors to the James Johnson campaign—a business-friendly conservative Supreme Court candidate who took out the more liberal Mary Kay Becker in 2004. Former GOP Senator Slade Gorton is Con Law PAC’s chairman.

While there are contribution limits on judicial races in Washington state ($1400 per contributor), there are no limits on donating to PACs. That makes Con Law PAC a threatening force. According to the PI:

“Johnson was elected in 2004 with the help of more than $200,000 in campaign contributions from the Building Industry Association of Washington and its affiliates…Johnson’s BIAW money alone dwarfed the entire campaign treasury of his opponent, Mary Kay Becker.”

Mary Kay Becker raised just $157,000 in 2004 to James Johnson’s $539,000.

I’ll watch the money and donors and keep you posted as to what I discover but each of us must commit to becoming aware of the issues and the candidates to the Supreme Court. These could be the 3 most important race


From The Seattle Times:

July 27, 2006

A new Johnson gets in the Supreme Court race

Posted by David Postman at 04:47 PM

Seattle attorney Michael Johnson just filed with the Secretary of State's office in the race against Justice Susan Owens. What's most enticing about this is that already in the race is a well known Johnson, state Sen. Steve Johnson.


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