Editor’s Note: This post is the third installment in a series focusing on mostly ignored state and local judicial contests in the 2018 midterm elections. Read the first post in the series — focusing on the Washington State Supreme Court and the contest between Justice Steve Gonzalez and his challenger — by following this link. The second post in the series, focusing on this year’s sole contested race for Court of Appeals, in northwest Washington, is also worth reading.
Newsprint has been called a dead medium many times in the last few years, but if it weren’t for local daily and weekly newspapers, we’d be totally bereft of coverage of many important issues and concerns… like judicial elections, which many voters have difficulty figuring out because of a lack of information about the candidates.
All judicial contests in Washington are nonpartisan, so the candidates’ names appear on our ballots with no party affiliation or cues of any kind. The ballots don’t even say who is an incumbent judge or justice (if one is running). They simply list the candidates’ names, the position they are seeking for, and the term length.
Television and radio stations almost never cover judicial races, not even high profile ones, which means that our surviving newspapers are almost the only media outlets devoting resources to producing journalism about these elections.
There aren’t many other resources available to voters to compensate for the dearth of coverage, either. There’s VotingForJudges.org, but in most races, it simply offers the candidates’ voter pamphlet statements and links to their PDC reports.
Some organizations vet judicial candidates prior to preparing sample ballots or endorsement guides for their members, but the information they collect (like questionnaire responses) isn’t necessarily made available to the public.
Here at NPI, we’ve been trying to shine a spotlight on as many judicial contests as we can before November 6th through the Cascadia Advocate, and urging more media outlets (especially television and radio stations) to do likewise.
While we have published our own posts exploring judicial contests on this blog and plan to publish more, we also want to recognize the newspapers that have been doing the same over the past few weeks without any prompting or cajoling.
Our first shout-out goes to The Daily Herald of Everett, which published a story examining the race for Cascade District Court up in Snohomish County.
As a judge in north Snohomish County seeks another four years on the bench, the local legal establishment is lining up behind her challenger — and urging voters to do the same.
Kristen Olbrechts ran unopposed four years ago for judge in Arlington-based Cascade District Court. This campaign promises to be harder. It is proving to be pricey and largely self-financed.
Challenger Jennifer Rancourt, a Snohomish County public defender and chairwoman of the state Clemency & Pardons Board, has shored up overwhelming support from the county’s sitting and retired judges, along with other key local legal figures. The county’s other seven district court races are all uncontested.
Our second shout-out goes to The Daily World in Aberdeen, which published a story looking at the race for Grays Harbor County Superior Court.
The two candidates for Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Position 3 discussed their qualifications with The Daily World editorial board on Thursday and differed widely in their views about a recent controversial attempted abduction case currently being appealed.
The case was decided by current Judge Ray Kahler.
His challenger is David Mistachkin, a lawyer and partner with the Aberdeen firm of Ingram, Zelasko & Goodwin. Mistachkin served as a Grays Harbor District Court Judge (2015–2016) and often works as a defense attorney. Kahler was appointed to the court last January to fill the seat of retired Judge Mark McCauley.
Kahler was an attorney and former partner at Stritmatter Kessler Whelan (offices in Hoquiam and Seattle) for twenty-one years prior to his appointment, working mostly in the area of personal injury cases.
In addition to that story, The Daily World also published a Q&A with each of the candidates plus an editorial laying out their rationale for backing Kahler.
Bravo to them for providing this coverage to their readers!
Our third shout-out goes to the Cashmere Valley Record for covering the judicial contests that Chelan County voters will have to sort out this year.
Two by two they were introduced, but not to debate nor to enter an ark, but simply to answer a few questions and give their opening and closing statements. It wasn’t exactly a barn-burner of a night, but it did give a chance for the people to see and compare candidates for Chelan County District and Superior Court judges.
Most of the audience of around fifty were partisan to one or another candidates with placards, T‑shirts and various paraphernalia extant in the gallery. Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shiloh (Schauer) Burgess introduced the format and ended the evening at the community room of the Pybus Public Market, Thursday, Oct. 18.
Our fourth shout out goes to the Skagit Valley Herald for covering their community’s Superior Court race between Rosemary Kaholokula and Laura Riquelme.
Skagit County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula is challenging Judge Laura Riquelme for her seat on the Skagit County Superior Court bench.
The winner of the election will serve the remaining two years of the term of Michael Rickert, who retired in 2017.
Riquelme has twice been appointed a Skagit County Superior Court judge by Gov. Jay Inslee, once in 2016 and again in 2017, to fill vacancies created by retiring judges Susan Cook and Rickert.
Prior to being appointed, the Mount Vernon resident served Skagit County for more than a decade — first as a prosecutor and then as a public defender where she represented low-income clients.
Our fifth and final shout out goes to the Spokesman-Review of Spokane for publishing a comprehensive piece on their Superior Court race back in September, pitting attorney Dennis Cronin against Judge Michelle Szambelan.
Both candidates have a storied history in the county and as such have received widespread support in the nonpartisan race.
Szambelan, who has received endorsements from nine sitting Superior Court judges, all eight District Court judges and her three ex-colleagues at Municipal Court, also has earned the support of Mayor David Condon, City Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilwomen Candace Mumm and Lori Kinnear, according to her website.
“I’ve had really good experiences with Judge Szambelan as a Municipal Court judge. I think she’s excellent,” said Stuckart on Thursday. “But I also think Dennis Cronin is great as well. I think he’s really knowledgeable.”
Cronin, meanwhile, has won over many local labor unions, the county Democratic Party and local activists, including Pastor Walter Kendricks of the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church. He also has endorsements from a long list of local attorneys, as does Szambelan.
The Spokesman-Review has also had the best coverage of any paper in the state of our State Supreme Court race. Their editors and reporters were producing much-needed journalism long before other media outlets took an interest in the race.
I hope I’ve succeeded in this post in demonstrating the value that our surviving daily and weekly newspapers have to our communities. Without them, we’d have pretty much no reporting whatsoever about critical judicial contests at the county and local level. Online-only media are simply not a replacement for local newspapers and can’t always provide the kind of high quality coverage that newspapers do. Please subscribe to your local paper if it’s not a free weekly, and help keep it in business.