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June 8, 2006

Supreme Court candidate doesn't want bar rating

Posted by David Postman at 12:24 PM

Supreme Court candidate Steve Johnson told the King County Bar Association today that he won't participate in its candidate evaluation this year. 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 is also following the tracks 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 is running against first-term Justice Susan Owens. He is 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.

UPDATE: I just received an e-mail from Gary Maehara, president of the King County Bar Association, that include these two points:

1. The 70 members of the KCBA Judicial Screening Committee are prohibited from donating to judicial campaigns, but are not restricted from donating to other political campaigns.

In any event, assuming Mr. Johnson's figures to be correct, the average donation by each committee member would be only about $90.00 per year to non-judicial campaigns -- and $0 per year to judicial campaigns. He does not state how many of the committee members made a contribution in the past 3 years. Was it a small number or large number? In either case, this hardly suggests that the committee members are "partisan activists."

Will Mr. Johnson next criticize the composition of the editorial boards of the newspapers and also refuse to appear before those bodies?

2. Washington's voters will be the losers if Mr. Johnson declines to stand before his peers and be evaluated as a judicial candidate. The vast majority of voters have no information about judicial candidates except for the candidates' own self-serving campaign literature, and perhaps whatever negative advertising their opponents might publish.

If judges are to be elected, then more information about them is needed, not less information. Mr. Johnson's letter, unfortunately, tells voters nothing about himself except that (1) he has an aversion to Democrats, and (2) he believes that some lawyers on the KCBA Judicial Screening Committee have made donations to Democratic candidates in non-judicial elections. The public deserves to know more than that about Mr. Johnson.

The KCBA Judicial Screening Committee, like screening committees of other bar associations, contacts dozens of persons who have dealt with a candidate first-hand, in order to measure not only the candidate's litigation experience and judicial experience, if any, but also the candidate's judicial characteristics, including legal ability, temperament, common sense, patience, communication skills, courtesy and integrity.

There is no question on the questionnaire about whether the candidate is a Democrat or a Republican, and that never has been a criterion of the screening committee.

Also, I was sent a copy of the judicial candidate reviews done by state business groups. You can see it here.

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