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Primary Tuesday 
18th-Sep-2006 11:23 pm
party politics
most likely today (or earlier), by the time you read this. Those of you not living in the eastern suburbs of Seattle or not in one of the various center/left realms of the political spectrum can safely skip this.

First, we have some overtly partisan websites with endorsements:In most cases the endorsements are identical except for the local judge race and the district-specific (i.e., state house/senate) stuff.

For more vaguely neutral endorsements, we have the KCBA (King County Bar Association) with ratings for all of the judge races and the King County Muni League with its various opinions

First off are the genuinely contested Democratic primaries, of which there aren't actually that many this time around. This year, there were any number of races where there were multiple candidates beforehand but they got together and drew straws or whatever for the sake of not having a contested primary -- the problem being that when you decide these things late in September, you then end up with the winner to be starting from scratch a mere six weeks before the general election. Bleah. Anyway, here are the few races where that didn't happen:
  • U.S. Senate primary has incumbent Maria Cantwell vs. a bunch of randoms.

    Hong Tran seems to be the focal point for people casting protest votes against Maria's Iraq war stance (i.e., initially voting yes, staying too long in the we-broke-it-we-bought-it school, and totally avoiding any question of whether the invasion might have been a mistake), never mind that the unlikely event of Tran actually winning would be a complete disaster, since that pretty much hands the seat to McGavick on a silver platter. But we knew that already.

    I'll admit to having a soft spot for Maria ever since 1993 when she was one of the lone voices speaking out in favor of lifting the export restrictions on cryptographic software -- she was one of the few people then in the House who had any technical clue on the subject. And there were political consequences considering that Clinton+Gore and the entire National Security establishment were still trying to push the adoption of the Clipper Chip at that point.

  • 48th District State House Pos. 2: Former Kirkland Mayor and 6-Year Council Member Deb Eddy vs. Complete Random Who Has Annoying Sound Files on His Website Santiago Ramos for the open seat being vacated by Rodney Tom. The 48th org and KCDCC have both endorsed Eddy.

  • And of course there's the insane 5-way free-for-all in 43rd District State House Pos. 1, but since that's in Seattle proper and The Stranger has undoubtedly already covered that to death, I'm done.
Which leaves the judge races. The fun part of judge races is that if one candidate gets over 50% in the primary, then the race is decided then and there and the general election does not matter.

The main action is on the State Supreme Court where the BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington -- last seen financing Dino Rossi's election contest lawsuit and other antics) and other "property rights" activists are funding a move to take over, invoking all of the usual "liberal activist" histrionics against all of the current incumbents:
  1. Susan Owens
  2. Gerry Alexander
  3. Tom Chambers
never mind that Gerry Alexander actually voted to uphold the state's DOMA (though if you're going to use that as a reason to vote against him, realize that his opponent is likely to be far worse on this issue). Though, I'm guessing, "liberal activist" is actually code for not being sufficiently deferential to the whims of big property developers (and maybe also thinking Tim Eyman is a moron) or something.

Owens probably has the most respectable opponent (he got a better KCBA rating than she did) and hence the hardest race.

Tom Chambers' opponent (Jeanette Burrage) was actually elected to King County Superior Court some years back in spite of her "Not Qualified" rating from the bar association, where in this case "Not Qualified" is more like "So Completely Not Qualified It's Not Even Funny, And, By The Way, WTFF?" By most accounts she was a complete disaster area as a judge (cases delayed or screwed up because she was completely uninformed in the relevant areas of the law, attorneys refusing to appear before her, female attorneys getting chewed out by her for not wearing skirts) but of course this is all liberal bias so... buh.

Alexander's and Chamber' races will be decided in the primary.

Which leaves the King County District Court and its single contested race in the NE District (Position #2):
  • Mary Ann Ottinger
  • Frank LaSalata
  • Richard Pope
The Northeast Judicial District, in case you were wondering, is everything on the east side of Lake Washington between Kenmore and Renton (not inclusive) (so yes, kathrynt and llachglin you are in this district), going from there all the way to the crest of the Cascades.

Pope, as a perennial candidate who, in the past, has run for pretty much anything that's not nailed down (Port Commissioner, Prosecuting Attorney, you name it) is fairly easy to dismiss. KCBA not only rates him "Not Qualified" but includes the additional statement, "The KCBA Board of Trustees has become aware of court orders imposing or referencing sanctions against Richard Pope and one referral to the Washington State Bar Association for unprofessional conduct which the Board believes may bear on his fitness to be a judge." (more here)

Mind you, I'd think that putting somebody in a box and forcing them to hear traffic cases and child custody disputes would be the worst sort of punishment imaginable. This would probably the 3rd Circle of Hell for me. While having Pope win might not actually be poetic justice (seeing as I don't know quite what he's done to deserve this beyond filing for way too many elections), it would at least keep him out of trouble for a good long while. If only there were some way of doing that without giving him the stature to run for something more consequential later on.

At this point things get more difficult.
  • Ottinger is endorsed by the 5th District Democrats.
  • LaSalata is endorsed by the 48th District Democrats and the King County Democrats.
  • The 41st Democrats ultimately deadlocked on the question of an endorsement in this race (though we do have a kind of anti-endorsement on Pope, FWIW).
Ottinger is the incumbent and has been on the court for 15 years. She has been censured twice (in 2004 and 2006) for not properly advising pro se (no-lawyer) defendants, prior to entering an oral plea, of their right to counsel and all of the various consequences that can result from a plea.

In her defense, she's the only judge at the Issaquah courthouse. And since the Issaquah facility only deals with the really low-level cases where people mostly don't bother to get lawyers, there are fewer lawyers around, and (I guess) these cases are a real pain to deal with because having to have the judge instruct the defendant directly slows the proceedings way down.

On the other hand, proceedings are supposed to be slow when they need to be, and there were evidently a lot of cases where she screwed this up (including one where a teenager on a first-time DUI had been in jail for 3 months on a 1-year sentence before an attorney finally saw the case and figured out that it should have been dismissed...).

The consensus is that she has in fact now cleaned up her act (the new rule in Issaquah is that *everyone* must have a lawyer), however it wasn't until the 2nd round of complaints (what led to the 2nd censure) came in that she actually did anything. One of the judges on the 2nd disciplinary committee wanted to have her completely removed rather than censured because of the way she blew off the 1st censure. I'm guessing this has something to do with why the KC Bar Association gave her a "Not Qualified" rating, which would otherwise be a very odd rating to give someone who's been on the bench as long as she has and gotten some number of awards during that time.

The other real candidate, LaSalata, has 8 years experience serving as a pro tem judge both in King County and in San Juan county. He has also served as a public defender.

On the minus side, there was a meth-lab case in San Juan County where he was originally appointed as the public defender, later ended up serving as the judge in the case (no idea how that works -- unless the San Juan County courthouse is a small operation where people routinely wear multiple hats), and eventually decided he wanted to throw the book at the guy to "send a message", striking up a conversation in the courthouse parking lot with a random attorney from the prosecutor's office to get their opinion prior to sentencing -- not quite within the bounds of allowed ex parte communications. This eventually resulted in the verdict getting tossed on appeal.

The problem here is, not being a lawyer myself, I have no idea how serious this compares with what Ottinger got censured for, though it does appear to be a one-time thing. Nor was it enough to keep the KCBA from rating him "Well Qualified", so I guess I file this one under the occasional mistakes that judges inevitably make.

With the help of Google, I also managed to dig up some guy with a website who evidently was not very impressed with LaSalata. The mp3s there are kind of amusing and suggest that LaSalata has a bit of a "power trip" problem in his courtroom persona, but then this same guy also doesn't like many of the other KC district judges, either, so it may be that a grain of salt is called for.

At this point I'm inclined to vote for LaSalata because nobody's going to be perfect, but the "Give Ottinger another chance" school has its points, too.

We'll see what happens.
19th-Sep-2006 06:04 pm (UTC) - are you going to any primary parties?
I'm considering going to a party for a candidate for whom I have volunteered and supported monetarily -- chances are good this person's candidacy will survive tonight, and I've never gone to a primary party before. Is the food good?
19th-Sep-2006 08:49 pm (UTC) - Re: are you going to any primary parties?
a candidate for whom I have volunteered and supported monetarily
anybody I know? (probably not)
I've never gone to a primary party before. Is the food good?
I've never been to a primary party myself so no idea.

Admittedly, I have been to a few dinner-type fundraisers and those have all been edible at least -- I imagine there's a balance one has to strike in that the food has to be good enough that one thinks well of the candidate and the event, but not so good that you get the impression that one's money is going towards food rather than the campaign.
19th-Sep-2006 09:19 pm (UTC) - Re: are you going to any primary parties?
anybody I know? (probably not)
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell. (Please tell me you've heard of her.)
20th-Sep-2006 12:20 am (UTC) - Re: are you going to any primary parties?
yeah, actually. And there's no need to be coy; you need to say things like
I'm considering going to a party for Maria Cantwell, for whom I have volunteered and supported monetarily
or maybe even
I'm considering going to a party for Democrat Maria Cantwell, for whom I have volunteered and supported monetarily
Get those cards out on the table, as it were...
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