Pierce County voters have a tough choice this year when it comes to picking a candidate for District Court judge, Position 8.
Both Karl Williams and Jeanette Lineberry bring years of legal experience to the race, and both have been judged “exceptionally well qualified” by the Pierce County Bar Association.
Both tout endorsements from some heavy hitters in local politics. Williams counts Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland among his supporters, while Lineberry has Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and state Reps. Dick Muri, Hans Zeiger and Dawn Morrell in her camp.
They also mostly agree on the issues, which they say include improving access to justice for those who most need it, including the poor and mentally ill.
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The winner gets a four-year term with an annual salary of about $140,000. He or she would oversee criminal misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases and civil disputes with a value of less than $75,000 that originate in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Lineberry was the top vote-getter in August’s three-candidate primary, garnering 38.02 percent. Williams got 31.21 percent, edging out Sandra Allen, who had 30.77 percent.
Williams, a private attorney, points to his experience — more than 17 years as a temporary judge — and the “very inclusive, very diverse array of people” supporting him as reasons to elect him.
He’d raised about $52,000 in campaign contributions as of Monday, including in-kind contributions of $21,000 from himself.
On the issues, Williams, who has sought a judgeship since at least 2000, said he thinks the county and state could do more to help expand alternative-to-sentencing programs at the District Court level.
Electronic home monitoring is available for criminal defendants now but only if they have the ability to pay for it, he said.
That hurts the poor, Williams said, who might not have the means to pay for electronic home monitoring and then have to serve their criminal sentences in jail instead of outside, where they could hold on to their jobs while serving their time.
“It’s just patently unfair,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to look at a criminal defendant and ask: Can you afford it?”
Williams said he would use his position to try to persuade the state Legislature to increase regulation of the electronic home monitoring service industry and to try to persuade the County Council to include the price of electronic home monitoring in the county budget.
The Sheriff’s Department used to administer the program, he said.
“You can advocate to change the system,” Williams said.
Williams said he also supports increasing services to the mentally ill and praised McCarthy’s recent decision to add two mental health specialists to aid the courts.
“That’s exciting,” he said.
Williams also has said it’s past time for a person of color to be elected to the District Court bench. He’s black.
Lineberry said her experience as a prosecutor, private attorney and now legal advocate for domestic violence victims gives her unique qualifications to be a judge. She’s also worked as a fill-in judge at the district court level.
“I’ve kind of seen the law from just about every angle you can,” she said.
As of Monday, she’d raised about $60,000 in campaign contributions, including $51,000 of her own money. On top of her campaign cash, the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorneys Association spent nearly $15,000 to buy a campaign mailer promoting Lineberry, Public Disclosure Commission records show.
Lineberry also pointed out that she is endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats, including the Pierce County Young Democrats and the Pierce County Republican Party.
“I share the values of both parties,” she said. “It’s the balance I bring.”
She contends one of the main issues facing the court is dispensing justice to mentally ill defendants who really need help more than incarceration.
Those people who don’t get treatment appear again and again in court, Lineberry said.
“It’s just this vicious cycle,” she said.
Lineberry said she supports the formation of a special court to deal solely with mentally ill defendants. The county budget doesn’t have money set aside for those costs, she conceded, but she said she would “look to other sources of funding,” like federal grants, as a way to pay for it.
She also said she’d like to make navigating District Court easier on people by getting forms online and upgrading the court’s website with more information.
“I have worked at providing access to justice at the Crystal Judson Center,” Lineberry said, referring to the organization that assists domestic violence victims. “It would be great to be a part of that at the District Court level.”