Is this any way to choose a judge?

The other day I bemoaned the race for King County Superior Court Position 22, where one well-heeled candidate’s $70,000 personal contribution threatens to swamp the campaigns of her qualified opponents.

But it turns out money isn’t the only the factor that plays a role in local judicial elections. No, sometimes petty spite comes into play too… at least, that seems to be the case with ambulance chaser personal injury attorney Matt Hale, less than four years a practicing attorney, who is challenging two-term incumbent Judge Laura Jean Middaugh for KC Superior Court Position 26.

So where does the spite come into this race? Well, get this… the Hale campaign has turned to Washington’s “Off-Highway Vehicle” community for much of their support, not because of any decision that Judge Middaugh made, but solely because she is married to State Sen. Adam Kline, author of an infamously inflammatory (and somewhat amusing) email in defense of his support of legislation restricting the use of OHVs on public land.

Get that? OHV enthusiasts are working to defeat Middaugh as payback to her husband for writing an email that just plain pissed them off. As one commenter wrote on an OHV forum in response to questions about Hale’s qualifications:

The intent behind supporting this guy is primarily to mess with Senator Kline.

Now is that any way to choose a judge?

No, of course not. With just three years of legal practice under his belt, and possibly zero courtroom experience (we don’t know for sure because he’s refused to provide any biographical information on his Muni League questionnaire or in the Voters’ Guide), the baby faced Hale clearly lacks the wisdom, maturity and legal experience to serve as a Superior Court judge. Yet… you know… if it messes with Sen. Kline, that’s good enough for his supporters.

Sigh.

Yeah, I know… railing against judicial elections is the blogging equivalent of tilting at windmills. But come on… our current system just plain sucks.

Comments

  1. 1

    proud leftist spews:

    YIkes. With just 3 years experience, young Mr. Hale probably doesn’t even know where the courthouse is. Judicial elections are a blight on democracy.

  2. 2

    Don Joe spews:

    Judges should be appointed by an executive with approval by a legislative body, and should serve for a fixed term before the appointment must be reaffirmed. Solves all this crap.

  3. 3

    michael spews:

    Wow, that’s mighty grownup and responsible of them!

    But don’t worry, when these folks are off riding their infernal machines they’re always safe and do everything they can to protect the natural environment.

  4. 4

    SeattleJew spews:

    Goldy …

    A thought occurs to me .. what about HA initiative II? That is some sort of initiative that would make the current system look screwy or undermine it.

    e.g.

    Require that all personal contributions to judicial campaigns be cited with every add. “I am Matt Hale and I contributed :$100,000 to my own campaign for a %50,000/yr job.”

    Require that 10% of all judicial advertising go toward ads revealing the bar association and police association ratings of the candidates.

    Require that judges run anonymously, citing only their experience, recommendations by the bar and cops, etc. Each judge would be given a number. Of course figuring out who was who would be relatively easy but there would be a leveling effect.

    Maybe we could have a contest for best idea?

  5. 5

    Tom Foss spews:

    I, for one, believe that judges should be elected and be accountable to the people. Judge Middaugh will whip this guy, and prove once again that this system can work. I actually think it would be better for the system to have a lot more challengers to some of the other incumbents. They get black robe-itis, and forget that they are a public servant.

    Every judicial year we go through this same wailing and knashing of teeth, about this or that unqualified person who dares to run, and then the process sorts itself out. To paraphrase Winnie, the election of judges is the worst way to pick judges, except for every other idea I have heard for an alternative. (Have the legislature approve? My goodness, what a nightmare!)

    -Tom

  6. 6

    SeattleJew spews:

    Foss

    I like one thing you said … if this is working why change it? If it is working, why is there any issue?

    OTOH, isn’t that argument true for the many different systems we have across the US? Even if our system works, do those work better?

  7. 7

    Don Joe spews:

    @ 5

    Without some form of campaign finance reform, electing judges doesn’t make them answer to the people.

  8. 8

    proud leftist spews:

    Don Joe
    This could be a semantic quibble, but judges ultimately are to be held accountable to the rule of law, not answerable to the people. Judges need to be able to issue decisions which might very well piss off a majority, even a big majority, of the populace without fear of losing their jobs.

  9. 9

    Perfect Voter spews:

    Thanks for this, Goldy; I’m learning more here about judicial candidates than in all the “other” media put together.

    Graham for Pos. 22 — check
    Middaugh for Pos. 26 — check

    How ’bout some wisdom on the other judicial races, please?

  10. 10

    SeattleJew spews:

    @7 Don Joe

    This idea that judges are computer like compilers of judicial code strikes me as fanciful. Obviously they must know the law and comply with it. That is why I worry that the people are poorly qualified to select judges.

    OTOH, it also seems to me that the way judges choose to use the law id very much a political issue.

    The real reason I think it makes no sense to have a vote is that nobody knows anything about these contests. Either you get a list from Goldy or from your Church or you vote by name recognition.

    The latter is why I suggested an intiative to have judged run anonymnously.

  11. 11

    Don Joe spews:

    PL @ 8

    That’s not a semantic quibble. Whether or not it’s desirable to have judges answerable to the people is a different question from the efficacy of using elections as a vehicle to ensure that judges are answerable to the people.

    And, frankly, I would agree that we don’t want judges who answer to the people via some majority view. Such judges tend to have a rather poor track record, for example, in upholding civil liberties in cases that can lead to an unpopular result.

    But my point at 7 is different. Even if one wants judges to be answerable to the people, elections don’t achieve that result. There are a variety of reasons why, and a very good case study is in John Grisham’s The Appeal.

    SJ @ 10

    I have no idea where my remarks lead to the notion that judges are computer-like compilers of judicial code. I’m merely saying that a system of judicial appointments does away with all of the drawbacks associated with electing judges. It might bring a new set of drawbacks, but I think they are far outweighed by the flaws of a system that relies on elections.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to outline the various pros and cons. However, it’s worth noting that the Federal Government has always had a system of appointed judges. What’s so different about the state and local level that we should elect judges instead?

  12. 12

    Rick D. spews:

    Well, if there was anyone better qualified to tilt at windmills, it would be Don QuixGoldy.

  13. 13

    Right Stuff spews:

    “ambulance chaser personal injury attorney Matt Hale”

    Not to impune every personal injury attorney though………….. or John Edwards……

    just sayin

  14. 14

    cwreader spews:

    The problem is not to do away with elections, but to educate the voters. The best people to educate the voters on judicial candidates are lawyers. There’s the rub.

    People don’t respect lawyers. And lawyers won’t opine publicly on judges. They won’t, because the professional code can be interpreted to restrict their free speech right in this regard and because they may practice in front of the judges later. The information the public ends up with are various bar ratings, which give very little (although still useful) information, and endorsements.

    One solution is to revolutionize the bar association with brave, creative, and brilliant lawyers of integrity.

    For judicial candidates already in appellate judicial positions, it should be easy enough to gather information to assist in making an educated vote. Their opinions are public record. But mainstream journalists are too lazy to read the opinions. We need more Dahlia Lithwicks to parse state court opinions for the common voter.

  15. 15

    SeattleJew spews:

    @14 … educate the voters???

    Hell, you would do better to bribe them. Like they do in Australia?

    How about this, attached to each balot we have a voluntary test. If you pass it you get a gold pinmedal with the head of any president you choose (except for 43) and the year.

    We could even have sashes like merit badges and .. of course .. would all wear these when we go to DL.

  16. 16

    Richard Pope spews:

    Matthew R. Hale was born on October 16, 1979. He did not vote at all in 2002, 2003, or 2006. The only primary election that he has voted in since 2000 was in 2004.

    The Hale-Middaugh contest will be resolved in the primary. I wonder if Matt Hale will remember to vote for himself next month?

    (By the way, Laura Middaugh is pretty much a perfect voter — voting in every single primary and general election for the last 8 years. She is also a little over twice Hale’s age.)

  17. 17

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Running isn’t the same thing as getting elected. Any damn fool can pay a filing fee.

    However, one thing to keep in the back of your mind is that when we let judicial pay fall below the starting salaries at law firms, this is the kind of judicial candidates (and judges) we’re going to see.

    Every 20 years or so, after judicial pay has deteriorated over the course of another generation of “other priorities,” the organized bar and judges have to fight a major battle for cost-of-living increases so we don’t end up with a bench staffed by kindergartners.

  18. 18

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Frankly, I’m not very worried about this kid displacing a veteran judge, even given the (low) cognition of the electorate.

  19. 19

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @10 “OTOH, it also seems to me that the way judges choose to use the law id very much a political issue.”

    Could you give a specific example of what you have in mind?

  20. 20

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @12 Thanks for your insight into the simplicities of judicial selection processes, Rickie Dork.

  21. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @13 Why should John Edwards be “impugned,” as you put it? He became a wealthy attorney through hard work. That’s what you free-market guys believe in, isn’t it? He represented helpless plaintiffs against cruelly indifferent corporations guilty of shocking negligence if not outright criminal irresponsibility. That’s certainly something I support — fighting for the little guy against big bullies! And if he got paid a lot of money for it, so much the better! That’s what America is all about, isn’t it? Making your mark and making a pile of cash in the process. So what’s your complaint, you fucking communist?

  22. 22

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @14 “One solution is to revolutionize the bar association with brave, creative, and brilliant lawyers of integrity.”

    That’s already been done. They admitted Pope and me, and kicked out crackpiper for nonpayment of dues.

  23. 23

    Steve spews:

    @21 “So what’s your complaint, you fucking communist?”

    RS is not just a commie, Roger, he’s a known commie-fascist.

  24. 24

    Rick D. spews:

    If Roger the Bunnyfucker was a lawyer, David Gold-stain is a Marconi award winner……Obviously someone needs to quit smoking their bunny pellets.

    Now, back to the “Roger Rabbitshit” personal chat room.

  25. 25

    Quincy spews:

    hey proud leftist @8, you have hit the heart of the matter. having judges selected by a vote of the people means that they are there not to make rulings on the basis of the facts and the law but to represent the wishes of the people as any other elected official does, does it not? they are in no way accountable to the rule of law. of course appointed judges need not hold themselves accountable to the rule of law, or anything else, either. as it stands, i imagine a judge must have to ask himself or herself how each and every decision will impact the next election. it’s a recipe for judicial activism.

  26. 26

    Tom Foss spews:

    As long as we take this discussion to the next civilized level, I could support an idea that says that judicial candidates have to find or demonstrate a level of support for their candidacy, and then we fund the elections through public finance.

    I do not support pure public finance in the political sphere, but judges are different from elected officials. Politics is the clash of ideas, and good public disclosure law tells us who supports whom. But judges should have no prior controlling biases. Under the law, judges should come with no biases, and that is the difference. I am not naive enpough to believe judges do not have life experiences- they damn well better- before taking the bench. But no one should be bought and sold as a judicial candidate based on special interests or personal wealth.

    My .02.

    -Tom

  27. 27

    Tom Foss spews:

    Another comment, on Judges to choose, and an easy endorsenment choice.

    In seat 37, Nic Corning is the easy choice, for progressives and even our conservative friends. He has incredible trial experience, business experience, he has the sole labor endorsements from ML King CO. Labor Council, Machinists, Teamsters, and SEIU- yet he was a president of Ballard Chamber of Commerce and helped rebuild downtown Ballard’s public sphere.

    Also the president of our high school foundation in Ballard, raising lots of money for our public hifgh school. He is supported by I think seven of nine members of the Supreme Court. He dwarfs his opponents, who are undistinguished in any way.

    Tell every one you know, Nic Corning is the easy choice in seat 37.

    More on other races soon, if you care.

    -Tom

  28. 28

    Right Stuff spews:

    @21and 23

    Um, I’m not the one who characterized all personal injury lawyers as “ambulance chasers”

    You guys are crack ups….

    Roger,
    “Why should John Edwards be “impugned,” as you put it? He became a wealthy attorney through hard work. That’s what you free-market guys believe in, isn’t it? He represented helpless plaintiffs against cruelly indifferent corporations guilty of shocking negligence if not outright criminal irresponsibility. That’s certainly something I support — fighting for the little guy against big bullies! And if he got paid a lot of money for it, so much the better! That’s what America is all about, isn’t it? Making your mark and making a pile of cash in the process. So what’s your complaint, you fucking communist?”

    why don’t you ask Goldy, he’s the one who has a problem with personal injury attorneys….

  29. 29

    charlotte spews:

    A good place to find more information about the judicial races is the website Votingforjudges.org. This site is a collaboration of the King County Bar Association, Washington State Bar Association, Municipal League, League of Women Voters.

    In race #22, a race for a trial court position, keep in mind Holly Hill has not tried a case in the past 11 years and has only tried 6 cases in the past 28 years. She has served as a pro tem judge only 15 days. Her main opponent,Rebeccah Graham, has been serving weekly and monthly for the past 6 years as a pro tem judge in Superior Court and has presided as a judge over hundreds of cases, criminal and civil. Over the past 20 years, she has tried hundreds of cases. In sum, her actual litigation and judicial experience over the past 20 years far surpasses Ms. Hill’s. Retiring judge Charles Mertel pleaded with the public to elect experienced candidates to the bench because he had seen too many green judges making amateurish but costly mistakes.

    The third candidate in this race has just been appointed as a King County Superior Court Commissioner, a judicial officer, and pledged that if appointed, she would cease to campaign for position #22.

  30. 30

    spews:

    Are Joking. this is what are system is about. a young person facing an uphill fight against an old tired rival (with good friends in the media). before reading this site i had know i dea who this young man was. i can assure you now that i will learn more and support him over your friend Ms.Middaugh