For judge: Hogan, Costello, Arend, Nelson, Rumbaugh

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.

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