This year’s judicial races for Thurston County Superior Court present both challenges and opportunities for voters, and are especially important because neither position involves an incumbent.
The Olympian does not normally endorse candidates prior to the primary election, but in the Superior Court races it is possible the Aug. 7 vote will elect the winner.
If a judicial candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the primary, according to state law, only that candidate’s name appears on the November general election ballot.
For that reason, The Olympian’s editorial board is making endorsements in positions 2 and 4 for Superior Court.
Superior Court judges in Thurston County must handle highly complex cases involving state government, as well as a busy docket of criminal and family or juvenile matters. To a lesser extent, Superior Court judges rule in civil matters.
This requires judges to be experienced and decisive.
For that reason, we favor either Christine Schaller or Marie Clarke over the other candidates. Either candidate would bring the knowledge, experience and right temperament to the Thurston County Superior Court bench.
Marie Clarke, 52, has 26 years of extensive trial and appellate experience. During her 10 years as a civil litigator in Nebraska she handled many complex criminal cases, including a three-week murder trial involving a variety of technical evidence.
She’s spent the past seven years in the Attorney General’s Office handling state issues, and is currently the supervising attorney in the courts division and the employment team leader.
Christine Schaller, 41, practiced as a trial lawyer for eight years in Thurston County, leading criminal jury and non-jury trials. In 2005, she was picked from among 18 applicants to serve as a Family Court commissioner and has ruled from the bench for just over seven years. She has experience in 85 percent of the cases that come before Superior Court judges.
The question of residency clouds Schaller’s candidacy. Although she was born and raised in Thurston County and has spent her professional life working here, she currently lives in Pierce County, a commuting compromise with her husband who works in Seattle.
Rather than establishing a “phantom” address in Thurston, she sought an opinion from the state Supreme Court, which dismissed the case and directed her to seek a declaration of candidacy from the county auditor. Both the auditor and the county prosecuting attorney agreed with Schaller’s interpretation of residency laws and accepted her filing for office.
Others, including candidate Jim Johnson in this judicial race have indicated they will challenge Schaller’s eligibility if she advances from the primary. This has potential for confusion.
Putting the residency issue aside, however, Schaller would make a thoughtful and decisive Superior Court judge and is more qualified than her opponents Johnson and Victor Minjares.
Minjares is the kind of pit bull lawyer a defendant would be glad to have on their side, but doesn’t exude the temperament of a Superior Court judge in the capital county. Johnson seems more driven by anti-Schaller sentiment than a passion for the bench.
In this three-way race, we prefer Indu Thomas or Erik Price.
Thomas, 42, has experience in all three branches of government, having worked as the lead litigator in many cases for the Attorney General’s Office, helped draft legislation as legal counsel for a Senate committee and, most recently, served five years as a Thurston Superior Court commissioner.
Thomas has criminal trial experience both in acting for the state and from the Family Court bench, and her knowledge of statewide issues along with previous work as a public defender, makes here highly qualified for this position.
Thomas would add needed diversity to the Superior Court and a sensitivity to those who appear before her, having grown up in poverty and having experience teaching in intercity schools.
Erik Price is an ambitious, smart lawyer with 20 years experience in private practice, who grew up in Olympia, and has the endorsement of retiring Judge Thomas McPhee whose seat is being contested. Like McPhee, Price’s experience comes from private practice, which suits a court already strong with criminal and prosecuting attorneys.
Allen Miller is an affable and community-minded lawyer who doesn’t seem well-suited for Superior Court. The community is better served if Miller devotes his talents to the many worthy community projects he has led and supported. His work bringing order to a dysfunctional Olympia School Board many years ago comes to mind.