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Washington Supreme Court elections, 2006-2010

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2010 election

Washington judicial elections, 2010

The Washington Supreme Court is made up of a Chief Justice and eight Justices. Justices are elected to the Supreme Court for six-year terms and they must retire at the age of 75.

Three of the Washington Supreme Court justices are up for re-election in 2010.

Court Incumbent Challengers Results
Supreme Court James Johnson Stan Rumbaugh [1]
Supreme Court Barbara Madsen Unopposed
Supreme Court Richard Sanders Charlie Wiggins, Bryan Chushcoff [2]

2008 election

Elections for three seats on the Washington Supreme Court took place in 2008. There are nine justices on the court, who are elected to six-year terms in non-partisan elections.

The names of all the candidates appeared on the primary election ballot on August 19, 2008. Any candidate who received more than 50% of the vote cast in the primary went on to appear on the general election ballot without opposition. If no candidate for a particular seat received more than 50% in the primary, the top two candidates appeared on the general election ballot on November 4, 2008.[3]

Positions 3, 4 and 7 are the seats that were up for election.

  • One incumbent, Debra Stephens in Position 7, had no challenger; her name appeared on the November 4 ballot unopposed.

2008 election results

The court's three incumbents all won their primary elections on August 19. Fairhurst and Johnson received more than half the vote in their races. Under Washington law, judicial candidates who get more than half the vote in the primary advance to the general election unopposed, assuring re-election. Justice Debra Stephens ran unopposed in the primary, guaranteeing her another term.

Justice Charles Johnson faced a tough primary challenge, but with nearly half the votes reported, the court's senior member led with a safe majority against Seattle attorney James Beecher. Beecher's showing was impressive considering he reported no campaign contributions. A third candidate in that race, C.F. "Frank" Vulliet, ran last.

In her campaign, Fairhurst, 50, defeated Mercer Island attorney Michael Bond.[4]

Final results

  • For Position 3, Mary Fairhurst defeated Michael Bond (409,033 to 258,358, or 61.29% to 38.71%).[5]
  • For Position 4, Charles Johnson defeated challengers James Beecher and Frank Vulliet (379,647 to 198,727 and 68,378, respectively; or 58.70% to 30.73% and 10.57%, respectively).[6]
  • For Position 7, Debra Stephens ran unopposed for reelection (567,748 total votes).[7]

2008 campaign themes and events

Newspaper endorsements

The Seattle Times has editorially endorsed challenger Michael Bond (over incumbent Fairhurst) and incumbent Charles Johnson. According to their editorial board, "Bond has a sharp mind, he knows the law and he presents a compelling case to replace the one-term Mary Fairhurst. In a sentence, the case is this: Fairhurst, who used to have a job defending the government, accepts the government's arguments — and excuses — far too much now that she is on the court".[8]

Judicial ratings released

Washington Women Lawyers rates judges running for election or re-election. Their rankings for the 2008 state supreme court candidates were:

The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys:

  • Ranked Fairhurst as "qualified".[9]

No "Nice-Guy" Promise

After harsh campaigns tactics in the state Supreme Court Judicial races two years ago, candidates this year decided to restore some dignity to the contest and many agreed to sign a pledge to run clean and fair campaigns. However, Frank Vulliet has declined to sign the judicial campaign pledge proposed by the Washington Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns, saying "...the pledge conflicts with both the right and duty to inform voters of vital matters affecting the courts, and their right to have as much information as available on which to make their choice," he said in a letter to Judge William Baker, chairman of the committee. Vulliet goes on for seven single-spaced pages to present his case, complete with citations, examples and footnotes. He is compelled to make such a case, he says, because, he could be subject to negative campaign tactics and misleading publicity if the full reason behind his decision not to sign is misrepresented by his opponent. "Such publicity is more egregious than the examples given because the public likely will "hear" only the candidate's name somehow associated with ethics in a negative context, without understanding any issue at stake and coming from an impartial source," Vulliet writes. Vulliet is one of two candidates challenging Charles Johnson, the senior justice on the bench, with 18 years of experience. He is running for his fourth term. Justices are elected to six-year terms.[10] For a copy of the letter Vulliet wrote, click here.

Court contenders vow fair fight

Each of the incumbents of the Washington Supreme Court has drawn challengers, and Justice Charles Johnson will be facing two opponents. The election is determined by whoever captures more than 50 percent of the vote in the August general election. The judges, and some of their challengers, have pledged to run clean and fair campaigns. "I was disappointed and shocked by the harsh, negative tone and deceptiveness we saw in 2006," said Charles Johnson, the senior justice on the bench, with 18 years of experience. He is running for his fourth term. Justices are elected to six-year terms. Mary Fairhurst and Debra Stephens have each drawn an opponent. This is Stephens' first campaign. She will face Jack Hall, a former Pierce County public defender with 30 years of experience. Fairhurst will face Mercer Island resident Michael Bond, an attorney for 28 years. Bond has launched his campaign with a homemade YouTube video and blog. Johnson has competition from James Beecher, a Seattle trial lawyer with an emphasis on insurance cases, and C.F. (Frank) Vulliet, a Mercer Island attorney.[11]

Many decide not to run

In 2006, $1.65 million was spent on three races. Which isn't a lot for partisan statewide races, but it’s a lot for a nonpartisan Supreme Court. With three incumbents up for re-election this year, challenges were expected in two of the three races. Mary Fairhurst had been in the middle of several prominent cases involving initiative powers, gay marriage and public record. And Debra Stephens joined the bench this year as an appointed justice. Justice Charles Johnson was not considered a target. With three seats open, it hasn't attracted many candidates. Well-known names like former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran, former U.S. Attorney John McKay and former Yakima County Prosecutor and current U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan were all mentioned, but none are running.

The groups that believe the current court is too active or too liberal or both still feel that way. And they are still interested in changing the makeup of the court. It’s just that the candidates interested in running didn’t interest them, and the candidates they wanted to run weren’t interested in running. “We are still in the process of talking to candidates, although frankly it is getting late,” said Elliot Swaney, the political affairs director for the Building Industry Association of Washington. “A number of folks chatted with us, but for whatever reason they’ve decided not to run.” The builders association has been intent on finding someone to run against Fairhurst. Former Sen. Slade Gorton thinks the difficulties of running might have kept good candidates from trying. Gorton, chairman of Justice for Washington, a group pushing for less-activist courts, said he, too, has not been successful in recruiting candidates this year. The group’s main target seems to be Stephens, someone it criticized as being too closely affiliated with the state’s personal injury lawyers.[12]

2006 elections

Altogether in 2006, $1.65 million was spent on three races.

Position 2

In the general election, Susan Owens won with 1,058,020 votes, or 59.84% of the total vote. Stephen Johnson came in behind Owens with 710,144 votes, or 40.16% of the vote.[13]

Position 8

Gerry Alexander received the majority of the vote over John Groen. Alexander was the incumbent.

Position 9

Tom Chambers received the majority of the vote over Jeannette Burrage. Chambers was the incumbent.

Candidate evaluations

Supreme Court candidate Steve Johnson told the King County Bar Association June 8, 2006 that he wouldn't participate in its candidate evaluation. In a letter to the association he said he doesn't think he'd be treated fairly since in the last three elections, people on the evaluation panel have donated $19,000 to Democrats and $800 to Republicans. The court is a non-partisan office but Johnson is a long-time Republican state senator from Kent. "The Supreme Court is a nonpartisan office, yet the people you choose to evaluate candidates for the Court are themselves partisan activists — and heavily tilted toward one side of the partisan scale at that!"

Johnson followed in the footsteps of two incumbent court members, Richard Sanders and James Johnson. Both were given low evaluations in their first campaigns, "not qualified" for Sanders and "adequate" for Johnson, and then decided not to submit to the bar's questions in subsequent elections. Steve Johnson ran against first-term Justice Susan Owens. He was backed by conservative groups, including the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Constitutional Law PAC, a group formed by Alex Hays, Jim Johnson's former campaign manager.[14] He subsequently lost in the general election.

Rules governing elections

Canon 7 of Washington's code of judicial conduct governs the conduct of candidates for judicial positions. Canon 7 says that candidates shall not:

  • Make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office.
  • Make statements that commit or appear to commit them with respect to cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the court.
  • Knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning themselves or an opponent.
  • Identify themselves as members of a political party.
  • Personally solicit or accept campaign contributions.

Candidates may establish a committee to secure and manage campaign funds and obtain public statements of support. Candidate committees may not solicit contributions earlier than 120 days from the date when filing for the office is first permitted or later than 60 days after the final election in which the candidate participates.[15]

External links