It was alphabetical order, not politics, that placed John Ladenburg and Sheryl McCloud in the middle during last week’s Lakewood forum featuring the four candidates for an open seat on the Washington Supreme Court.
Still, it gave them a good vantage point to watch the missiles passing overhead from their right and left.
On one side was former state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, attempting a comeback. On the other was King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer, hoping to stop him.
To the men on the ends, Ladenburg and McCloud just seemed in the way. For Ladenburg, a Tacoma native who loves the give-and-take of a campaign, this seemed a frustration. He is not one who takes kindly to being ignored.
Sanders sometimes included Ladenburg in his none-too-veiled contempt for partisan politicians trying to join the court. But Ladenburg was more collateral damage than intended target.
“The other two gentlemen candidates come from an extremely partisan background,” Sanders said during the forum at Lakewold Gardens. (I served as moderator.)
Ladenburg is a former Pierce County prosecutor and executive; he ran for both those offices as a Democrat. Hilyer ran twice, unsuccessfully, as a Democrat for King County executive.
Most of Sanders’ shots were sent directly at Hilyer. It is Hilyer who provided the stand-in for much of what Sanders seems to resent most – the Seattle legal establishment.
“Too many judges in the state put the government’s interests ahead of the private citizen,” Sanders said. That, he said, “is the real choice this year.”
Hilyer returned fire, at first by reference, but finally by name. Judicial independence is the “seminal issue” in the election.
“The last thing we want is to have a judge with some big ax to grind or some big ideology.” Hilyer said.
That refers to Sanders’ reputation for speaking his mind and for espousing a libertarian view of government. His opinions during 15 years on the Supreme Court tended toward individual rights over government authority in both regulations and criminal justice.
Ladenburg tried to engage the judge and the justice. Despite 14 years as prosecutor and eight more as executive, he described himself as the outsider.
“I’m not an insider in the courts,” he said, later mocking his rivals as members of the “good old boys and good old girls network.”
Ladenburg said Hilyer gets endorsed by other judges not because they’ve ever seen him in court but because they seen him at judge conventions. Ladenburg criticized Sanders for his role in the so-called Andress decision that invalidated hundreds of murder convictions when assaults led to death, saying it was evidence that the court is out of touch.
But Sanders’ aggressive defense of that decision seemed aimed more at Hilyer, who agreed with Ladenburg and called the decision a “major blunder.”
“I don’t care how much it costs the government to correct the government’s error,” said Sanders, who joined the majority in the 2002 decision.
If Ladenburg wanted in on the fun, McCloud seemed OK with letting the men fight it out. As the only woman in the race, and in a state that has been especially receptive to electing female justices, she was left free to speak her mind without having to respond to accusations.
Defense lawyers are often vulnerable in a political campaign for somehow being soft on crime. But McCloud painted her work, both in trial courts and on appeal, as defending constitutional rights.
“These might not be popular with all segments of society,” she said of some of her successes. “But you need someone with a track record of willingness to take on unpopular causes.”
While staying mostly outside the fray, McCloud did join Sanders in warning against electing “career politicians” to the top court.
While the election could be decided at the Aug. 7 primary should one of the four win a majority, that is unlikely. Instead, the two with the most votes will advance to the general election.
Based on name familiarity alone, and in a relatively low-turnout primary, Sanders is considered likely to move on. One of the other three will just be happy to survive until November.email@example.com 253-597-8657 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics @CallaghanPeter