Pierce County voters get something during the Aug. 7 primary election they don’t get often: a slew of contested Superior Court judge races.
Four incumbents face challengers this cycle, and another open seat has drawn two candidates, both seeking their first full-time judgeship, resulting in 10 candidates in all. That’s the most since 2004, when four races were contested.
The ballot includes some intriguing match-ups, including sitting judge Beverly Grant against deputy prosecutor Jerry Costello.
Grant raised some eyebrows when she abandoned her current seat in Department 18 to challenge Costello for the Department 7 seat being left open by the retirement of Frederick Fleming. Costello has raised more than $90,000 – almost nine times as much as Grant – to secure the seat.
The primary election will decide who will serve a four-year term.
The county’s 22 Superior Court judges preside over felony criminal cases, divorces and high-dollar civil disputes, among other duties. They make about $150,000 per year, with county taxpayers picking up half the tab and state taxpayers the rest.
Here’s a rundown of the races by judicial department:
Incumbent Vicki Hogan faces a challenge from attorney Jack Hill.
It’s the first time Hogan’s been opposed. Hill said the time has come.
Both have deep roots in the Pierce County legal community.
Hogan’s been a Superior Court judge for 20 years and practiced law in Pierce County before ascending to the bench.
Hill was director of the county’s Department of Assigned Counsel, also known as the public defender’s office, for more than 20 years.
Hogan said her accomplishments on the bench and in the community merit another term. She touted her efforts to improve the use of technology in the justice system, including helping develop the county’s online system for filing and reviewing court documents.
Hogan also pointed out she’s taken a leadership role among her peers, acting as liaison to new judges and serving on ethics committees.
“I am running on qualifications and experience,” she said.
Hill pointed to his own qualifications as running what amounts to one of the biggest law firms in the county, and pounded Hogan on her ratings in the most recent Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association’s survey of judicial performance.
Something’s wrong when 27 percent of the 440 attorneys who responded to the survey said they couldn’t get a fair or competent hearing in Hogan’s court, Hill said.
“That raises issues,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. I say after 20 years, it’s not going to change.”
Hogan countered that a survey completed by a fraction of the county’s lawyers is not the best indicator of job performance.
“Constructive criticism is good for the judges,” she said. “But being a judge is far more than a popularity contest.”
Even so, Hogan added her ratings weren’t bad.
“I bet President Obama would like that 70 percent approval rating right now,” she said.
Both candidates acknowledged the bench would have to come up with creative ideas to address shrinking budgets.
Hogan said furthering the use of technology in the courtroom is imperative. She said she would encourage the use of Skype, video testimony and other means to streamline trials and hearings, thereby reducing costs.
Hill said he believes blacks and other minorities are being disproportionately prosecuted and imprisoned in Washington state and Pierce County. He vowed to try to find a way to reduce the disparity in his time off the bench.
“We have a serious problem with this in Washington state and in Pierce County,” he said. “I don’t what the answers are. What are the causes? What can be done about it?”
Hogan has solid support among her peers, including endorsements from five of the nine Washington State Supreme Court justices and 16 of her colleagues on the Pierce County bench.
Hill counts among his endorsements several local defense attorneys, as well as former Prosecutor and County Executive John Ladenburg and former County Council chairman Shawn Bunney.
The race for Fleming’s seat pits Grant, a former high-profile private-sector attorney appointed to the bench in 2003, against Costello, a long-serving government lawyer seeking his first judicial position.
It is a distinct choice.
Grant touts her black heritage as an asset to the predominantly white Superior Court bench. She often adopts a folksy tone in delivering her rulings and in remarks to the public.
“I am sensitive to a lot of different issues,” she said.
Grant decided to seek a judgeship a decade ago after becoming disillusioned with her work as a plaintiff’s attorney, she said recently.
“I felt guilty for what I made for eight hours of work,” she said.
Costello projects a no-nonsense demeanor and said he is running for judge because he sees it as the next step in what he calls “a career of public service.”
He pledged to bring integrity and a good work ethic to the bench.
“My integrity is unblemished,” said Costello, who heads the homicide unit in the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “There are no skeletons in my closet.”
Costello has made an issue of Grant’s low rating in the most recent evaluation of Superior Court judges by the bar association.
She finished near the bottom of the ratings, and Costello called unacceptable the fact that 61 percent of the lawyers who took part in the survey said they didn’t think they could receive a fair and competent hearing in Grant’s court.
“I fully support diversity on the bench,” Costello said. “But what I think is more important is competent performance.”
Grant countered that only 39 percent of the county bar responded to the survey and questioned the way some of the results were tabulated.
“I work hard to be a competent judge,” she said.
Grant said she jumped seats to challenge Costello, who appeared to be on his way to an unopposed election.
“Voters deserve a choice,” said Grant, adding she thinks Costello’s candidacy might be an effort by the prosecuting attorney’s office to influence the bench.
Grant conceded her decision was influenced by the fact that two other people had declared to challenge her for the Department 18 seat.
“It’s easier to run in a two-party race than in a three-party race,” she said.
Costello contended his criminal expertise would benefit to a bench where only a quarter of judges are former prosecutors.
Grant said she sees the on-going budget crisis and improving accessibility to the courts as the main issues facing the county’s justice system over the next four years.
She suggested added kiosks around the courthouse to distribute information and legal forms in different languages. She said she also supports longer rotations for judges on criminal and civil panels to promote “uniform decisions and rulings.”
Costello said he would support preassigning more criminal cases to individual judges to make trial dates more available and work to mend what he sees as divisions among the judges themselves.
He also pledged to “being on time and being on the bench for the full court day.”
“Time is money,” Costello said. “It makes a world of difference to the litigants and the attorneys.”
They both boast a solid list of endorsements, with Grant getting support from Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, seven of her colleagues on the Superior Court bench and three current members of the state Supreme Court.
Costello is endorsed by County Council chairwoman Joyce McDonald, three members of the current Superior Court bench, Sheriff Paul Pastor and others.
Incumbent Stephanie Arend and attorney Antoni Froehling are vying for the seat Arend’s held for 13 years.
Arend said she deserves another four.
“I love my job,” she said. “I think I’m good at it, not just on the bench but administratively and in the community.”
Froehling called Arend “the poster child” for a hidebound bench more concerned with “form over substance” when it comes to dispensing justice.
“She makes it more difficult to litigate cases,” he said. “She’s abrasive. She can be disrespectful at times. It’s bad for the administration of justice.”
Froehling said the most recent bar association survey to reinforces his point.
Nearly 75 percent of the lawyers who took part in the poll said they felt they could get a fair and competent hearing in Arend’s court. Froehling pointed out that the top judges in the survey received ratings of 90 percent or higher in that category.
Arend said it is a goal of hers to work harder at explaining her rulings so everyone understands them when they leave court.
“As judges, we’re not always good about explaining our rulings,” she said. “Not only what the decision is, but how we got to that decision.”
She also provided a letter signed by 12 family-law attorneys that called her “bright and extremely knowledgeable about family law.”
“She is respectful of the litigants who appear before her, including both attorneys and individuals representing themselves,” the letter states.
Arend went on to say work in the courtroom is only part of her job as a judge, and she cited examples of off-the-bench accomplishments she said makes her worthy of re-election. They included revamping the way family-law cases, such as divorces, are processed through the system to speed resolutions.
She also touted her work as convener of the YMCA’s District Mock Trial Competition, which allows students to play the parts of attorneys and other court personnel in a fake trial overseen by real judges.
Froehling is a past president of the local bar and currently is Orting’s land-use hearing officer. He said his 34 years as a lawyer have prepared him for nearly any kind of case he might see as a judge, including criminal cases, divorces and other civil litigation.
Arend said tough choices face the bench as county revenues continue to shrink and budgets constrict.
Judges are faced with reducing the number of jury trials they hold each year or cutting programs, such as interpreters for civil litigants whose first language isn’t English, she said.
At the same time, the court needs to do more to educate what seems to be a growing number of people choosing to represent themselves, Arend said. She suggested kiosks where so-called pro se litigants could get the necessary forms and information about moving their cases forward.
“We need to do a great deal more,” Arend said.
Froehling said the bench is not taking advantage of simple measures that could streamline the process and reduce costs for the court and litigants.
He said he would make more use of conference calls to handle routine hearings and allow attorneys to submit working copies of documents via email. Not all judges do that now and it seems a waste, he said.
“The goal would be to make the system more efficient,” Froehling said.
He agreed that more needed to be done to help pro se litigants, many of whom he said suffer “horrific injustices” because they don’t know what they’re doing.
Froehling suggested making use of so-called legal technicians who could dispense some legal advice and direction to people representing themselves, especially in family-law cases.
In 2002, Froehling and his partners in a development corporation were sued for breach of contract by a company they’d hired to do some road work for a subdivision. A judge found Froehling and his partners acted in bad faith and illegally breached their contract.
Froehling, who owned a 10 percent stake in the corporation, paid more than $19,000 as part of the judgment, court records show.
“It was a construction case that went sour,” he said. “We went to court and lost. It’s just the way the system works.”
Arend is endorsed by 18 colleagues on the Superior Court bench, Tacoma, Police Union No. 6 and the Tacoma-Pierce County Black Collective, among others.
Froehling’s endorsements include the Pierce County Democratic Party, 27th District Democrats and others.
Incumbent Kathryn Nelson is being challenged by attorney James Schoenberger for the seat Nelson’s held since 2001.
Nelson said her “breadth and depth” of experience makes her the best candidate.
She worked on a variety of case as a private attorney for 21 years before ascending to the bench and since has heard hundreds of trials, she said.
“I believe that is breadth that would take many years to equal,” Nelson said. “I got into the law to help people. I’d like to continue that work.”
Schoenberger got his law degree in 1981 after working for Honeywell and the Federal Reserve Bank, mostly maintaining mainframe computers. His current practice focuses on criminal defense, including representing clients charged with Class A felonies.
He’s challenging Nelson, he said, because he thinks somebody has to.
“It’s never been on my bucket list to be a judge, but I want Judge Nelson off the bench badly enough to do it myself,” Schoenberger said.
He said Nelson’s ratings in the latest bar association’s survey show it’s time for a change. Nelson finished near the bottom of the rankings, with 59.5 percent of the lawyers who took part in the survey saying they had confidence they could get a fair and competent hearing in her court.
“A lot of people say this – and I believe it – ‘She’s a wonderful person,’” Schoenberger said. “But that doesn’t make her a good judge.”
Nelson shrugged off the criticism, saying she considers the results as essential feedback.
“I pay attention to those, and I am always going to strive to bet the best person I can be,” she said.
Schoenberger said Nelson does not have a good grasp of the rules of evidence and cited a 2006 Court of Appeals decision in which justices overturned a man’s murder conviction because Nelson had improperly admitted evidence at trial.
Nelson pointed out the Appeals Court decision was 2-1 vote, and that she erred “in favor of giving the jury the full facts about the case.”
She also said the trial was held almost 10 years ago, and that she’s learned a lot since then.
“I don’t know if I would decide it the same way now,” Nelson said.
Schoenberger said his experience as a lawyer has prepared him to “sit down, shut up and listen,” which he contended is a judge’s chief job.
He said, if elected, he’d work to establish a special court for mentally ill defendants. The court would work much as county’s drug court does today, he said.
Defendants charged with certain low-level felonies who have a documented history of mental illness could qualify to have their records cleared if they completed treatment plans and stayed out of trouble, Schoenberger said.
“What we’ve done if we’ve criminalized people with mental health problems,” he said. “I see this as a defense attorney, time and time again, people with mental health come into the criminal justice system and leave with a felony.”
Nelson said she would continue her work advocating for abused and neglected children. She currently is chairwoman of the Washington State Superior Court Judges Association’s committee on family and juvenile law.
She also said she’s recently revamped the court’s family law website to provide more information for people choosing to represent themselves in divorce and other cases.
Nelson is endorsed by 15 colleagues on the Superior Court bench and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, among others.
Schoenberger’s endorsements include DADs of Washington, a fathers’ rights group, and local attorney Barbara Corey.
The race for Grant’s former seat pits civil law veteran Stan Rumbaugh against criminal defense attorney Helen Whitener.
Both attorneys believe their experience and expertise is what’s needed on the Superior Court bench.
Rumbaugh touted a 33-year career that has seen him try cases all over the Northwest, from wrongful death claims to complex intellectual property cases. He said his experience in civil litigation positions him to help the court address a growing backlog of civil cases.
“The capacity of the court itself is being stretched,” Rumbaugh said.
Whitener countered that her experience with and knowledge of criminal law is what’s most needed in Superior Court, where judges and attorneys have worked for the past several years to reduce a backlog of felony cases.
Much of her practice concentrates on criminal defense, and she has represented several high-profile clients recently, including LaTanya Clemmons, sister of cop killer Maurice Clemmons. LaTanya Clemmons was convicted at trial of rendering criminal assistance to her brother’s getaway driver, but an appeals court overturned the jury’s verdict.
“We have that backlog, and I think that affects everything else,” Whitener said. “Someone with criminal law experience, you can move these cases along more efficiently. What that does is it opens up the court to handle other areas more efficiently.”
Rumbaugh, who has practiced law more than twice as long as Whitener, points to his community involvement as another reason he thinks he’d make a good judge. He’s served on the boards of Bates Technical College, the Tacoma Housing Authority and Planned Parenthood.
“Over the decades, I’ve been committed to public service,” Rumbaugh said. “Judicial officers need to realize that they are public servants. Being a judge would marry up law and public service and would be a really ideal situation for me.
“The scope of my experience is simply far great than that of Ms. Whitener.”
Whitener conceded she’s not practiced as long as Rumbaugh – she worked in international trade before going to law school – but contends she’s made the most of her time as a lawyer.
“It’s not the years, it’s the quality of work I’ve done,” she said. “I think I bring a balance to the bench. I’ve been told I’m evenhanded.”
Rumbaugh said he sees improving access to the courts as the biggest issue facing the bench.
Many litigants who can’t afford attorneys are choosing to represent themselves, he said. That is a disservice to them and inefficient for the courts, as pro se cases tend to bog down and clog up the system, Rumbaugh said.
He proposed recruiting recent law school graduates to help represent some of those people, possibly in exchange for a reduction in their student-loan debt.
Whitener said she’d propose changing the way people are called in for jury duty. She said she’d like jurors to be called in only when cases are ready to go out, instead of a weekly cattle call that often finds potential jurors waiting around for something to do.
“We’re wasting our jurors time, and it’s expensive for us,” Whitener said.
Rumbaugh is endorsed by county Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and Mayor Strickland, among others.
Whitener’s endorsements include three Superior Court judges.
Occupation: Judge pro tem, attorney.
Legal/judicial experience: Trial attorney and director, Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel, 1983-2006; Superior Court arbitrator; judge/commissioner pro tem for the past six years.
Law degree: Willamette University School of Law, 1974.
Total raised, spent*: $13,412, $1,892.
Top contributors: Ben Barcus, $250; Richard Brady, $250; Jerry Kimball, $250; Robert Meyers, $250; Deborah Harrison, $200; Donald Winskill, $200.
Occupation: Superior Court judge.
Legal/judicial experience: Superior Court judge for 20 years; 15 years as pro-tem judge and commissioner in Superior, District and Municipal courts; Pierce County arbitrator and mediator; 15 years as private attorney.
Law degree: California Western School of Law (year not provided.)
Total raised, spent*: $39,215, $25,164.
Top contributors: Angela Connelly, $900; John R. Connelly Jr., $900; Meagan Foley, $900; Neil Gray, $900; Law Offices of Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler, $500.
Occupation: Senior Pierce County deputy prosecuting attorney and judge pro tem.
Legal, judicial experience: Judge pro tem, District Court; deputy prosecutor for 23 years; trial attorney, 1987-89; lieutenant, U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, 1983-87; faculty, National Advocacy Center, 2000-10.
Law degree: California Western School of Law, 1983.
Total raised, spent*: $90,484, $14,342.
Top contributors: Terry Costello, $1,500; Kris Costello, $1,300; Marshall Brown, $1,000; Phyllis Brown, $1,000; Donald Ernst, $1,000.
Occupation: Superior Court judge.
Legal/judicial experience: Superior Court judge since 2003; private attorney for 25 years.
Law degree: University of Washington School of Law, 1976.
Total raised, spent*: $10,971, $1,757.
Top contributors: Angela Connelly, $900; John R. Connelly Jr., $900; Rae Lea Newman, $900; Ron Newman, $900; Griffin & Williams, $500; Kathleen McGoldrick, $500.
Occupation: Superior Court judge.
Legal/judicial experience: Superior Court judge for 13 years; former partner at Gordon Thomas Honeywell.
Law degree: University of Puget Sound School of Law, 1988.
Total raised, spent*: $53,079, $19,668.
Top contributors: Clemence Arend, $1,800; John R. Connelly Jr., $1,800; Sheila Foley, $1,800; Neil Gray, $1,800; Jean Marie Harmon, $1,800; Mary Lundeen, $1,800; Aaron Shamp, $1,800; Martha Shamp, $1,800.
Legal/judicial experience: 34 years in private practice in Pierce County; pro-tem judge in Pierce County, Orting, Puyallup and Buckley; past president Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association; land-use hearing officer for City of Orting.
Law degree: University of Puget Sound Law School, 1977.
Total raised, spent*: $6,525, $225.
Top contributors: Doug Shinstine, $600; Law Offices of Douglas Kaukl, $500; Annette Neil, $500; Darol Tuttle, $500; Kathy Charest, $250; Steve Charest, $250; Pat Josties, $250; Law Offices of Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler, $250; W.D. Russell, $250; Phil Sloan, $250.
Occupation: Superior Court judge.
Legal/judicial experience: Superior Court judge since 2001; 21 years as a private attorney.
Law degree: University of California Los Angeles School of Law, 1979.
Total raised, spent*: $39,025, $25,000.
Top contributors: Angela Connelly, $900; John R. Connelly Jr., $900; Erwin Turnbull, $250; Janet Turnbull, $250; Law Offices of Todd Worswick, $200; Law Offices of Richard Hoefel, $200.
JAMES SCHOENBERGER JR.
Law degree: Chicago-Kent College of Law, 1981.
Legal/judicial experience: 31 years as a civil litigator, federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney; appointed judge pro tem in Superior Court in 2005.
Total raised, spent*: $4,104, none reported.
Top contributors: Lojas PLLC, $1,800; Jerry Crow, $150; James Oliver, $100; David Wood, $50.
Legal/judicial experience: 34 years as a private attorney.
Law degree: University of Puget Sound School of Law, 1978.
Total raised, spent*: $15,994, $9,790.
Top contributors: Daryl Graves, $1,000; Joseph Meyrelles III, $1,000; Patricia Timko-Parker, $1,000; Henry Schatz, $900; Claude Remy, $500; Clyde Summerville, $500.
Legal/judicial experience: Pro-tem judge in Pierce County District Court and the City of Tacoma Municipal Court for three years; former prosecutor for Pierce and Island counties and the City of Olympia; former Pierce County public defender; currently in private practice.
Law degree: Seattle University School of Law, 1998.
Total raised, spent*: $3,958, $678.
Top contributors: Whitener-Rainey, $1,000; Joyce Pierre, $750; Cynthia Macklin, $200; Barbara Bowden, $150; Sergio Armijo, $150.
* State Public Disclosure Commission Records as of Friday.