Christine Schaller, a candidate for Position 2 on the Thurston County Superior Court, lives in Pierce County.
The Washington Supreme Court will decide this fall whether that makes her ineligible to hold elected office in Thurston County. But the high court’s decision will not come before ballots go out to voters and not likely before the Nov. 6 Election Day.
Despite that uncertainty, voters should elect Schaller, 41, because she is more qualified than her opponent, Jim Johnson, 51.
Schaller’s residency became an issue in the race when her primary opponents filed a lawsuit arguing that a state law requires candidates to live in the county they propose to serve.
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Schaller has argued that the state constitution, which makes no such requirement for elected offices, trumps state law. A Kitsap County Superior Court judge recently agreed, dismissing the lawsuit brought by Johnson and another primary opponent, Marie Clarke, and a private attorney.
The Kitsap judge ruled the Legislature has no authority to create new qualifications for constitutional offices.
Schaller’s case is an important one that could affect future campaigns. That’s why the Supreme Court agreed to take the case.
Voters, however, should ignore the legal wrangling surrounding this case and vote for the candidate who would make a better judge for Thurston County. Voters can do nothing to influence the court’s decision, but must choose between the names on the ballot.
Schaller, a former trial attorney serving as a Thurston County Family Court Commissioner, has superior experience and temperament over her opponent. She has a proven seven-year record of ruling thoughtfully, consistently and decisively.
That experience would benefit Thurston Superior Court, because four of the eight judge positions are changing this year. Erik Price and Indu Thomas are contesting Position 4, and two recent governor appointees are running unopposed for the remaining seats.
Jim Johnson, an 18-year lawyer in the Attorney General’s Office currently litigating Labor and Industries cases, has staked his candidacy on Schaller’s ineligibility. A smart lawyer who finished at the top of his law school class, Johnson lacks his opponent’s specific experience, especially in criminal cases.
Schaller gets credit for choosing to confront the residency issue head-on. She could have established a “phantom” address in Thurston County and met the state law as well as the constitutional requirement.
It would have been better for everyone if this issue had been settled before the primary, but voters have no choice now but to choose between Schaller and Johnson and deal with the consequences, if any, of the Supreme Court’s decision after the election.
In the other contested race for a seat on Thurston County Superior Court, Erik Price has the advantage over challenger Indu Thomas.
Thomas is a well-liked Family Court commissioner with experience in crafting legislation and in the Attorney General’s Office. She would add diversity to the court.
Voters can’t go wrong with either candidate for this race, but Price’s experience from 20 years in private practice gives him the edge. He also has the endorsement of retiring Judge Thomas McPhee, who also came from a private practice background.
The Superior Court is already strong with criminal and prosecuting attorneys, so Price brings the perspective and balance being lost with McPhee.