You don’t have to be a time traveler to see why citizens should educate themselves before voting for judges.
Just three years ago, a newly elected judge, Michael Hecht, left the Pierce County Superior Court in disgrace after being convicted of felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute.
Hecht was an obscure, marginal lawyer who saw his main chance in 2008 when Judge Sergio Armijo got poor ratings from the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association. Armijo had a record to defend, and Hecht had none. His penchant for addicted and desperate street kids surfaced after his election.
Lesson: A lower-tier incumbent can be far superior to a stealth challenger.
Pierce County citizens have choices for five Superior Court seats this summer – an unusually high number, because attorneys are normally hesitant to challenge sitting judges. Decisions, decisions:
• In Department 5, Jack Hill, who directed the county’s criminal defense program for many years, has challenged Judge Vicki Hogan, a 20-year veteran of Superior Court.
Hogan is a widely respected, no-nonsense courtroom manager with immense experience on the bench. She’s not perfect – no judge is – but on the whole she’s quite impressive. There’s simply no reason to replace her.
• In Department 7, Judge Bev Grant faces Jerry Costello, chief of the homicide division in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Oddly, this isn’t the seat Grant now holds; she’s leaving Department 18 to run for a position left open by the retirement of Frederick Flemming.
Grant has been a disappointment in her nine years in the office – so much so that the lawyers who responded to this year’s bar poll gave her a staggering vote of no confidence. Most of them said that they couldn’t expect her to handle their cases with fairness and competence; most said they wouldn’t vote to re-elect her.
Costello, in contrast, is well-regarded in legal circles. He has a formidable work ethic, a reputation for good legal judgment, and a demeanor that inspires trust. He is the best choice for this seat.
• Department 12 offers a closer call. Incumbent Judge Stephanie Arend is good at her job; lawyers give her high marks for fairness and skill. Her opponent, Antoni Froehling, is a public-spirited attorney who has served many years on the Sumner School Board and in other volunteer positions.
He’d likely make a fine judge. But Arend already is a fine judge – no likely about it. The county should keep her, and her 13 years of experience, on the bench.
• The race in Department 13 is a contest between Could Be Better and Potentially Much Worse.
Judge Kathryn Nelson is not the most distinguished judge on the court, but Pierce County has seen far worse – and there’s no reason to believe her challenger, James Schoenberger Jr., would be a trade up.
A transplant from Illinois, Schoenberger’s career in this area hasn’t been outstanding. He appears to be running on a personal animus against Nelson. Voters would be wise to stick with the incumbent.
• Department 18 – the one Grant is leaving – features a race between two capable attorneys, Helen Whitener and Stan Rumbaugh.
Whitener projects intelligence and dignity, essential qualities in a judge. But Rumbaugh, who ran for the state Supreme Court in 2010, has multiple advantages: roughly 20 more years of experience, more thorough vetting by the legal profession and a longer record of accomplishment.
He’s a known quantity, and what’s known is good. We wouldn’t hesitate to endorse Whitener over several other candidates on this ballot, but Rumbaugh is too seasoned and capable to pass up.Read more endorsement editorials at www.thenewstribune.com/endorsements.