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Washington Supreme Court Justice Position 6

The Washington Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch of state government, co-equal with the legislative and executive branches, and it is the state court of last resort. It consists of nine justices serving six-year terms, with three justices being chosen by the voters from a nonpartisan judicial ballot at the general election in November of each even-numbered year. The goal of the Supreme Court is to provide for the prompt and orderly administration of justice by the judiciary and to announce the law on issues brought before it. The Court determines cases, publishes opinions, adopts rules of procedure, provides continuing guidance for the admission and supervision of the members of the Bar, and conducts a continuous program of training and guidance for the judiciary.

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  • Candidate picture

    Richard S. Serns
    (NP)

  • Candidate picture

    G. Helen Whitener
    (NP)

Biographical Information

What experiences have best prepared you for the Supreme Court?

What are the most important issues facing appellate judges?

What could be done to ensure prompt and timely decisions from the court?

What could the Supreme Court do to educate the public about the rule of law and the role lawyers and judges play in our justice system?

How can a judge insure that persons without lawyers are provided the same access to justice as persons who are represented by counsel?

What is your view on the judge’s role in strengthening both the reality and perception of equal justice for persons of all ethnic backgrounds?

How can the court avoid the perception that decisions are based on partisan positions?

Experience (Max 500 characters) Extensive experience in resolving a wide-range of issues brought by multiple stakeholders with various interests, reaching outcomes that were legally sound and exhibited the characteristics of careful listening, sensitivity to the interests of all parties, and conclusions that were fair and just to all parties. This included meditations, investigations, collective bargaining, the processing of complaints and public information requests, and extensive review and revision of policies and procedure
Campaign Phone (253) 740-4500
Town where you live Winclock, WA
I have spent more than twenty years in various school administrative roles serving as a mediator, an investigator, a lead negotiator for more than 20 collective bargaining agreements, and as the appointed lead for the review and revision of more than 400 policies and procedures for two of the largest school districts in the state. In all of these roles I had to both know and apply state and federal laws covering a wide-range of issues, and seek just and fair outcomes for divergent stakeholders with multiple interests.
More important than the issues brought forward in the cases themselves, is the issue of seeking to maintain a process that is truly fair and just irrespective of a person’s income level, race, partisan affiliation, or special interest affiliation. And to not only maintain that fairness and justice in applying the process and the law, but to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest or favoritism so that the public’s trust in the criminal justice system is established, maintained, and increased.
This is a difficult problem for the courts and for the public, in large part because due process is a right that all those charged with a crime have a Constitutional right to, and one for which even all parties in a civil case have a rightful expectation. There are ways that these protections can be afforded however, in a more efficient and timely manner. Part of the problem can be rectified by the caseloads of the courts being reduced through the provision of additional judges, or staff. And a significant remedy that would resolve part of the problem can be addressed by allowing, or even requiring, alternative dispute resolution processes such as mediation to be used for certain lower level offenses or disputes.
Justice can ensure that they are more available to the public through appearances at forums open to the public or by making presentations to service clubs or at educational venues. They can also authorize and more widely distribute both electronic and print educational materials about these roles and the judicial system
This is also a very difficult problem to resolve, but one that must be addressed. In our current system, greater income provides a client with the probability of much better legal defense than those who are unable to pay large sums for these legal defense services, and therefore must rely on public defenders who are often overloaded and more inexperienced. One of the quickest and easiest ways to partially address this problem is to reduce the caseloads of public defenders and to increase their pay to attract more experienced attorneys to the positions.
One of the greatest inequities in our criminal justice system is the disparate length of sentencing for individuals of color when convicted for the exact same crimes as white people, especially when there is a disparity of wealth as well. A judge often has discretion as to the length of sentence, as well as to the adequacy of defense, that the person charged had. Equity in terms of sentencing and due process throughout the criminal justice system will go a long way toward both improving the reality and perception of equal justice .Judges need to take a more active role in monitoring these disparate outcomes and correcting them.
It is a good start in our state that judicial candidates must be non-partisan. However, this identification is often blurred when justices frequently leave their position before there term is expired, which gives the governor the opportunity to appoint someone to take their place until the next election, which then allows that person to run as an incumbent. Another thing that creates the impression of a lack of diversity of perspectives is when there is rarely anyone on the court who dissents. Dissent should not be made just to address this perception, but there is usually a strong legal argument to be made for both sides of a case by the time it reaches the Supreme Court, so when there is routinely no dissent, that raises a legitimate perception of a lack of diversity of thinking on the court. These problems can probably primarily be addressed best by voters being aware of these patterns and considering them when they vote.
Experience (Max 500 characters) Current WA Supreme Court Justice; Pierce County Superior Court Judge; Judge, Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals; Judge Pro Tem, Pierce County District Court and Tacoma Municipal Court; Prosecuting Attorney; Private and Public Defense Counsel
Campaign Phone (253) 222-3673
Town where you live University Place
I have over 7 years of judicial experience and 23 years of legal practice experience. I have presided over thousands of trials, hearings, administrative procedures, and settlement conferences. I have presided over complex civil and criminal jury trials with multiple claimants and/or multiple defendants. I have presided over complex family law trials and settlement negotiations. As an attorney, I handled high-profile, complex, criminal litigation (both as a prosecutor and defense attorney). I am rated as Exceptionally Well Qualified by the following Bar Associations: King County Bar Association, Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association, Washington State Veterans Bar Association, Q-Law Bar Association, Loren Miller Bar Association, Joint Asian Bar Association, Latina/o Bar Association, Washington Women Lawyer’s Bar Association, and the Cardozo Society of Washington State.
The most important issue facing ALL judges is ensuring access to justice during the COVID-19 Pandemic. We must make sure our courts are open and that the persons who need our services can access them safely and without undue obstacles or added expense.
Judges should prioritize their time by preparing and reviewing any pleadings and appropriate case law so that they are educated on the issues to be decided. Not only will this practice ensure timely decisions, but well-reasoned decisions may be less likely to be appealed.
I am a gay, black, female, naturalized American citizen with a disability. I have spent my entire legal career reaching out to all factions of the legal and non-legal community in a professional and personalized way. Since joining the bench, I have kept up a very vigorous extra-judicial schedule where I mentor young individuals from marginalized backgrounds to include attorneys and new judges. I am a faculty member of the WA State Judicial College and I teach new judges on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion matters. I participate in presentations that address access to justice issues; I teach Street Law at Lincoln High School; and I organize and participate in activities that educate individuals on the importance of diversity in the legal profession. I lead by example and I have shared my time and experiences with all ethnicities. I continue to speak often at community forums to educate the community at-large on the workings of the legal system and how it can impact their lives.
I am Co-Chair the WA State Minority and Justice Commission. I am a Supreme Court appointed Judicial Officer of the Office on Civil Legal Aid Oversight Committee (OCLA). A significant barrier to access to justice is the generalized lack of financial resources. Public systems, by their very nature, are resource-strained and in many instances funded by the very populations who are denied access under the current funding structure. That is why I am so adamant about my role at OCLA: their mission is providing funding and resources to provide financial and legal assistance to civil litigants. In this pandemic, lawyers are being trained to represent the anticipated surge of civil legal needs such as evictions, foreclosures, landlord-tenant issues and domestic violence matters, just to name a few.
Decisions made by the Supreme Court impact the lives of all of the people for generations. To build trust and confidence in the Court, it is imperative that the Court is representative of all of the people. Different perspectives and experiences matter in order to bring a more balanced interpretation of the law. My lens, my experiences, and my qualifications, uniquely help to enrich the analysis. I aspire daily to be professional and courteous, to treat everyone with dignity and respect; to listen with an open mind; to be evenhanded and well-reasoned in applying the law; to be focused and decisive in my decisions; and to take the time to research unfamiliar issues. I collaborate and mediate with others, as needed, to ensure everyone is heard and that the agenda is moved forward to build consensus.
First and foremost, the court should make sure that every decision comports with the law, irrespective of who the litigants are. Politics has no place in judicial decision making; that is for the other two branches of government. During this election cycle I sought and received the endorsements of both political parties as a balanced and fair advocate for justice for ALL of the people of Washington.