The race for a seat on the Tacoma Municipal Court bench took a nasty turn this week after candidate Drew Ann Henke’s campaign treasurer mistakenly identified her as a member of the American Heritage Party on a state-required form.
Campaigners for Henke’s opponent, Rob Freeby, quickly assembled a robocall that was circulating Friday accusing Henke of violating judicial ethics by affiliating herself with a political group.
Henke, who contacted The News Tribune on Friday to “set the record straight,” said she was outraged that Freeby would try to make political hay out of what she called “an obvious typo.”
“He knows this is not true,” Henke said. “They obviously were looking for something to blast me for.”
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Freeby had the the robocall pulled Friday after The News Tribune called him to point out Henke’s contentions.
“I am taking the high road and canceling it,” he said.
Freeby said his campaign committee decided to commission the calls after one of his staffers noticed that Henke recently had amended her C-1 form with the state Public Disclosure Commission, which regulates campaign spending in Washington.
The updated form, filed Oct. 13, listed Henke’s political party as American Heritage, an alternative party formed in the 1990s. Members of the party, which since has morphed into the Christian Liberty Party, called for smaller government, withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the abolition of the IRS, among other things.
Her original C-1 filed in April listed her political party as “NONE.” The state Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judicial candidates from identifying themselves by political party in an effort to maintain the appearance of a nonpartisan judiciary.
“When we saw that change, we felt that it was very concerning,” Freeby said. “The campaign committee decided it was something that needed to be talked about. We didn’t know if maybe she affiliated with an organization just before the election and thought someone might not catch it.”
The C-1 form is required of candidates running for office in Washington. It has spaces for general information about the campaign, including the candidate’s campaign committee mailing address, campaign treasurer and political party, if applicable.
Henke’s updated C-1 was filed by Kevin Benton, a Pierce County deputy prosecutor who serves as her campaign treasurer.
Benton said he filed the form online last week to update some information, including which bank the campaign is using.
Benton said he must have inadvertently clicked on the “Political party” box while scrolling through the form, accidentally selecting the American Heritage Party from a drop-down menu.
“I don’t know what this political party is,” he said. “I don’t know how this would have happened.”
Henke said she was upset that Freeby did not call her to clarify the mistake before commissioning the robocalls.
“I’d like to think that judicial candidates and judges hold themselves to a higher standard,” she said.
Freeby said he and his people assumed the information must be true because Henke electronically signed the form, certifying “that this report is true, complete and correct to the best of my knowledge.”
Henke and Freeby, both veteran lawyers, are battling for a four-year term on the Tacoma Municipal Court bench. The winner will decide criminal misdemeanor and both criminal and non-criminal traffic cases generated within the city limits of Tacoma.
The position pays about $144,000 annually.