Elections

Seasoned attorneys face off for Tacoma Municipal Court seat

It’s a long-time defense attorney versus a former deputy prosecutor in the race for the Position 2 seat on the Tacoma Municipal Court.

While they come from different work backgrounds, both Rob Freeby and Drew Ann Henke said they seek the $144,000-a-year job because they want to help people.

“I want to help turn people around and make a positive impact on the community,” said Freeby, for the past 20 years a private attorney specializing in criminal defense.

“I want to do meaningful work for the community where I live,” said Henke, a 20-year prosecutor now working as an administrative law judge.

Both candidates see the need for more services for mentally ill people who find themselves in the court system.

The winner gets a four-year term and will decide criminal misdemeanor and both criminal and non-criminal traffic cases generated within the city limits of Tacoma.

Candidates don’t necessarily have to live in Tacoma. The law requires only that they are registered voters of Pierce County and have been admitted to the state bar.

ROB FREEBY

Freeby said his years as a private lawyer have prepared him well for the Municipal Court bench, where a high volume of cases necessitates alacrity and flexibility from a judge.

“I’ve always been a proponent of finding a nontraditional solution that meets the needs of all concerned,” said Freeby, whom the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association rated “well qualified” last year for an open position on the Pierce County District Court.

A Navy veteran, Freeby said he sees the need for more services for members of the military who find themselves in the court system. He said he supports the forming of a special court, or at least a docket, to deal strictly with veterans who find themselves in trouble with the law. Freeby said a diversion program that would allow first-time offenders to escape prosecution or sentencing if they follow strict guidelines also might be helpful.

“We have a lot of veterans coming back from deployments to the Middle East or the African continent, and they have emotional and psychological issues that get them into trouble here in Tacoma,” he said. “First-time offenders need the court’s help to turn their lives around.”

The same goes for mentally ill people who get caught up in the criminal justice system, Freeby said.

“Mental health is a hot button now,” he said, “but it’s been an issue for years.”

Freeby said he would be willing to explore “outside the box” solutions to address those issues, especially with money being tight.

“You can roll up your sleeves and work with what you have,” he said.

As of Tuesday, Freeby had raised more than $41,000 in campaign contributions, including $9,100 of his own money, state records show. He’d won endorsements from a number of local judges and County Executive Pat McCarthy, among others.

DREW ANN HENKE

Henke served in a variety of positions in the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office for 20 years, including supervising the misdemeanor and juvenile divisions, before resigning in 2008 to go into private practice and then on to an administrative judgeship.

She said her five years as an administrative law judge have prepared her for the Municipal Court bench, allowing her to hone her skills in listening, weighing evidence, judging credibility and synthesizing what she learns into a coherent opinion.

Administrative law judges conduct hearings, develop a record and issue decisions on cases including appeals of unemployment benefits, public assistance, liquor licensing and other matters that don’t require a jury trial.

“I’ve had to develop the qualities a judge needs to have,” Henke said. “I’ve been able to develop my skills as an impartial decision-maker.”

Henke said she, too, supports increasing services to mentally ill people who find themselves in the court system. She said she would use her knowledge of the federal grant system, which she developed as a deputy prosecutor, to seek money for such programs.

“There is money out there. You just need to keep working at it and fit your needs into what grants are available,” she said. “If you can’t get money to build a mental health court but you can get money for counselors, then get the counselors. You’ve got to take small steps and go from there.”

Henke said Municipal Court also could collaborate with other local courts, including Fife and Lakewood, to develop mental health programs.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association rated Henke “exceptionally well qualified” in 2012 for a position on the Puyallup Municipal Court and “well qualified” in 2013 for a position on the Pierce County District Court.

As of Tuesday, she’d raised more than $16,000 in campaign contributions and had won endorsements from the Tacoma Police Union, Local 6, Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell and a number of local state representatives, among others.

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