A judge ruled Friday that Thurston County Court Commissioner Christine Schaller will remain on the ballot as a candidate for Superior Court judge through the Aug. 7 primary, even though she lives in Pierce County.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Larry McKeeman rejected Olympia attorney Vicki Lee Parker’s petition asking that Schaller be declared ineligible on procedural grounds. Parker contested Schaller’s candidacy on the grounds that the state requires candidates for elected office to live in the county they wish to serve.
McKeeman rejected Parker’s petition because it should have been filed two days after the filing period ended in May. It was filed more than a week after the filing period ended.
McKeeman did not rule on whether Schaller was ineligible. Schaller’s attorney, Shawn Newman, has argued that the state constitution does not have a residency requirement for Superior Court judges, and the constitution trumps state law.
Before Schaller filed, she received notice from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office that the county would not oppose her candidacy. The prosecuting attorney’s civil division cited a 1986 opinion by its office stating that the state constitution does not have residency requirements for Superior Court judges.
Newman said Friday that he and a Thurston County civil prosecutor both argued to McKeeman that the constitution trumps state law, and he said he wishes the judge had ruled on the issue.
“Ultimately, it’s the voters that are going to decide,” Newman said, adding that Schaller has lived in Olympia for most of her life and has deep roots locally. In a recent poll by the Thurston County Bar Association, Schaller received 154 votes from attorneys who favored her for the Superior Court judge seat. Her three opponents received 22 votes combined.
In Schaller’s current job, she hears Thurston County criminal cases involving juveniles, as well as civil cases involving family disputes and child-custody cases.
One of Schaller’s opponents, Jim Johnson, is an attorney for the state Attorney General’s Office. He has indicated that he will file a timely petition to contest Schaller’s candidacy after the primary, should she finish in the among the top two candidates, so her name may not be on the ballot in the general election.
Johnson had tried to intervene in Parker’s petition so he could argue on behalf of Schaller being declared ineligible. McKeeman did not allow Johnson to intervene in the case Friday.
Johnson said Friday that it’s a shame McKeeman did not decide the candidacy issue. Because he will file another petition contesting her candidacy after the primary, “primary voters will vote not knowing if she can hold the office,” he said.
Parker added that McKeeman did not find her petition “frivolous,” and if he had, he could have ordered that she would have to pay the defendants’ attorney’s fees. Parker said she, too, will file another petition challenging Schaller’s eligibility if she finishes among the top two vote-getters in the primary.