Editor’s Note: This post is the second 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.
Not long after Washington became a state in 1889, its legal community realized that having a single appellate court would not serve the interests of justice in the long term. After many years of discussion, in the late 1960s, during the Evans era, the Legislature proposed — and the people adopted — a constitutional amendment creating a new set of courts to relieve the Supreme Court’s heavy workload.
These courts — collectively, known as the Court of Appeals — serve us today as our intermediate appellate courts. Governor Dan Evans appointed the first twelve judges, who all faced the voters in 1970.
Today, the Court of Appeals has twenty-two judges. Ten of them sit in Seattle, the home of Division I. Another seven sit in Tacoma, the home of Division II. And the remaining five sit in Spokane, the home of Division III.
Like Superior Court judges, District Court judges, Municipal Court judges, and Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges are elected. The length of terms is the same as for those on the Supreme Court: six years.
State law provides that the Court of Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction except for in certain types of cases, like those involving a question of constitutional law. In other words, the Court of Appeals is the usual next stop for a final judgment being appealed by the losing party from a Superior Court.
The Court of Appeals is empowered to hear cases concerning personal restraint petitions and writs of mandamus and quo warranto.
The Court of Appeals can also provide discretionary review of a Superior Court’s decision in an appeal from a court of limited jurisdiction.
Additionally, the Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction over review of final decisions of administrative agencies pursuant to RCW 34.05.518.
The work of the Court of Appeals is very important, but sadly, we rarely hear about it. And at election time, we the people have to decide who should sit on the Court of Appeals, but we receive very little information with which to make our decision. Media coverage of Supreme Court races tends to be extremely minimal; media coverage of Court of Appeals races is pretty much nonexistent.
Partly, that’s because contested Court of Appeals races are not all that common. Also, the Court of Appeals doesn’t have the stature the Supreme Court has as the state’s highest court. Judges on the Court tend to run unopposed for reelection. Sometimes they draw challengers, but those challengers aren’t always qualified.
This year, Washington has one contested Court of Appeals race. It’s in Division 1, in the 3rd District. Since pretty much no one (not even people who work in politics for a living) remember the boundaries of the Court of Appeals districts, here’s a map:
Click to enlarge. As we can see, the districts are drawn along county boundaries.
King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties are so big that they are their own districts. The other counties are grouped together in districts.
The 1st District of Division 1 is King County; the 2nd District is Snohomish County. The 3rd District is Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, and Island counties.
Whidbey native Hazelrigg-Hernandez is a deputy public defender working for Skagit County; SeGuine is a former prosecutor who is now in private practice. Hazelrigg-Hernandez studied law at Gonzaga, while SeGuine studied law at Willamette.
The position is currently held by Judge Mary Kay Becker, who is retiring.
A previous campaign for this position, won by Becker, was one of the few Court of Appeals contests in recent memory to attract media attention.
Hazelrigg-Hernandez and SeGuine are the finalists in what was originally a crowded field of five candidates hoping to succeed Becker. SeGuine won the Top Two election, with Hazelrigg-Hernandez not far behind. The results were as follows:
- Tom SeGuine: 29,407 votes (28.76%)
- Cecily Hazelrigg-Hernandez: 24,197 votes (23.67%)
- Lisa Keeler: 22,474 votes (21.98%)
- Rita Latsinova: 16,560 votes (16.2%)
- Roger Leishman: 9,597 votes (9.39%)
None of the eliminated candidates appear to have endorsed either of the finalists.
Although judicial positions in Washington State are nonpartisan, the Republican Party is supporting SeGuine and the Democratic Party is supporting Hazelrigg-Hernandez. The Skagit County Republicans have given $2,000 to elect SeGuine and the Whatcom County Republicans $500, according to reports filed with the Public Disclosure Commission. Meanwhile, the Whatcom County Democrats have given $909.87 to Hazelrigg-Hernandez and the Skagit County Democrats have given $500, also according to reports filed with the Public Disclosure Commission.
SeGuine has the fundraising edge — he has raised more than three times as much as Hazelrigg-Hernandez ($74,391.84 to $26,665.41).
However, Becker has endorsed Hazelrigg-Hernandez.
“Cecily Hazelrigg-Hernandez is an outstanding, hard-working lawyer and she will be an outstanding, hard-working judge on the Court of Appeals. Be assured that she will serve the law with integrity, impartiality, and independence,” Becker says in a testimonial posted on Hazelrigg-Hernandez’s website.
Two Supreme Court justices have also endorsed Hazelrigg-Hernandez: Justice Steve Gonzalez and Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud. Both are up for reelection themselves this year. Gonzalez faces admonished attorney Nathan Choi and McCloud is unopposed after her opponent was kicked off the ballot due to being disbarred.
SeGuine has no published endorsements from any current or retired Supreme Court justices. He has been endorsed by several current and retired judges in Whatcom County. He is also supported by Republican legislators Doug Ericksen, Barbara Bailey, and Keith Wagoner (Wagoner’s name is misspelled as Waggoner on the website), along with former Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.
“A Republican precinct committee officer, SeGuine has been endorsed by Skagit Republicans and attended partisan fundraisers after announcing his candidacy; which suggests he will be a conservative judge who favors judicial activism,” the Progressive Voters Guide says, urging a vote for Hazelrigg-Hernandez.
SeGuine naturally does not talk about his past partisan activities on his campaign website since he is running for a judicial position. Instead, he touts his experience, citing its longevity and saying that makes him the superior choice.
If you ask us, the longevity of one’s practice as an attorney is a pretty simplistic, one-sided way to evaluate a candidate’s qualifications for the bench. Merely comparing years of service doesn’t tell you how skilled or effective an attorney is and whether they possess the temperament to be a good judge.
There is no question SeGuine has been a lawyer for longer than Hazelrigg-Hernandez has: he earned his law degree in the 1980s and she earned hers in 2007. Seniority, however, does not automatically make him the best candidate.
Bar ratings are a far better way to measure candidates in a judicial contest, but unfortunately, no bar ratings appear to be available to voters in this race.
“My entire legal career has been committed to serving traditionally underrepresented communities and, as such, I am intimately familiar with the impact of court rulings on not only the litigants in a given case, but their families, employers and the community,” Hazelrigg-Hernandez told the Skagit Valley Herald.
Both candidates have records of community involvement and cite them in their voter’s pamphlet statements and on their websites. SeGuine has served as President of the Skagit County YMCA, has been involved in Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, and has taught constitutional law at Skagit Valley College.
Hazelrigg-Hernandez has worked with the Skagit-Island Community Partnership for Transition Solutions, the LBAW Free Legal Clinic, the Skagit County Law Day Clinic; and the Bellingham YWCA in addition to serving as a parent volunteer in the Mount Vernon School District. She also has also been an instructor at Western Washington University; a visiting instructor at Universidad Latina de America, and a Legal Services Facilitator at the Spokane Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention Center.
The winner of this contest will serve a six-year term on the Court of Appeals ending in early 2025. Ballots are due back by 8 PM on November 6th and must be postmarked by that day if being returned through the United States Postal Service. There is no longer a cost to return a ballot through the Postal Service, as all ballot return envelopes in Washington State have prepaid postage.
Please vote and encourage all your friends and family who are citizens to vote. Voting is a crucial obligation of citizenship. Generations of Americans have fought and died to protect the rights and freedoms we enjoy today, including the right to vote. Honor their sacrifice by completing and returning your ballot.