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Candidates contend for Court of Appeals judge spot

The appellant judge contenders hoped to see more people attend the forum but were happy to take questions from a sparse audience after discussing topics provided by the debate’s sponsors, the Clallam County Bar Association.

Incumbent J. Robin Hunt won the coin flip and generally answered questions first. Her challenger, Tim Ford, answered second, often criticizing some of Hunt’s court opinions.

The candidates were given time for rebuttals, at which time Hunt repeatedly encouraged people to review her record and read her opinions, suggesting the resource www.votingforjudges.org.

Generally, discussion covered carrying special interests to the bench, partisan politics, criminal law, experience and open government.

Hunt has been a judge with the District 2 Court of Appeals since 1997. The position serves Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason and Thurston counties. She has experience clerking for the Detroit public defenders office, the Washington Attorney General’s Office and for the U.S. District Court for eastern Michigan before going into private practice.

She then served as a deputy and senior prosecutor with King County, as Bainbridge Island Municipal Court Judge pro tem and as a hearing examiner for the area.

Ford, a former Navy helicopter pilot, went into private practice after law school and later served as counsel for the Building Industry Association of Washington. He became a deputy Solicitor General for the Washington Attorney General and is presently the attorney general’s open-government ombudsman.

The debate was mediated by local attorney Carol Mortensen.



Open government

Ford cited a case, Tacoma Public Library v. Woessner, speaking to how the state Supreme Court didn’t accept Hunt’s decision regarding the library’s release of employee information other than Social Security numbers.

“The state Supreme Court has reversed on Judge Hunt’s decisions in three separate cases regarding public disclosure,” Ford said in response to Hunt’s allegation that he often challenges her open government opinions. “But I have been careful not to say how I would have ruled.”

Hunt spoke up quickly, stating the Woessner decision was not reversed but remanded because she did not award attorneys fees and the state judges ruled one party had to pay the other’s fees.

“Less than 1 percent of the state appeals cases regard public disclosure,” she said, indicating people should look up the cases Lindeman v Kelso School District, where she was reversed, and the Northwest Gas Association v Washington Utilities, each an opinion dealing with public disclosure.

“I know (Ford) is active in open government and a group trying to repeal exemptions,” but the judge position is to follow the law, not special interests.

Hunt said she teaches legal ethics and public disclosure at seminars, takes the court on the road to schools and had TVW showcase appellant sessions when the Legislature is not in session.



Special interests

Ford criticized Hunt for having a special interest or an emotional reaction in a court opinion involving a defendant, who was an accomplice to a main offender, that had backed out of a plea bargain only to get 30 new charges against him from the prosecuting attorney.

Hunt called the action vindictive prosecution and ruled against the lower court. Her decision, which included the opinion of two other appellant judges, was reversed by the state Supreme Court.

Hunt indicated she had been reversed nearly 30 times in the nearly 3,000 cases she has presided over during her 11 years on the bench.

“You may have felt the ruling was not fair,” Ford said. “But the sentence was within the standard range for the charges against the man.”

Answering a question from the audience, Ford said his campaign would be separate from his time with the Building Industry of Washington, which heavily campaigned with questionable commercials against state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander in 2006.

Ford said if the association runs ads on his behalf, he didn’t want to hear about it.

“Advertising is free speech, and it’s constitutionally protected free speech,” he said. “It’s part of politics. In our American culture, sometimes we don’t like what we see on TV. We hold our nose and vote for the next candidate.”

Both candidates encouraged citizens to review their endorsement lists, often throwing around names associated with the top levels of judicial government.

Tim Ford’s campaign Web site can be found at www.timford2008.com. J. Robin Hunt’s Web site is at www.reelectjudgehunt.com.

To learn more about the Washington State Court of Appeals, visit www.courts.wa.gov. To find a complete list of candidates and seats open to election, visit www.secstate.wa.gov/elections.





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