Clallam judge candidates propose veterans court



Sequim Gazette

The four candidates for Clallam County Superior Court judge position 1 participated in a candidate forum before the Clallam County Bar Association on June 15.


Port Angeles attorney Curtis Johnson, Clallam County Hearing Examiner Christopher Melly, Assistant Attorney General William Payne and Clallam County District Court 2 Judge Erik Rohrer are in the running to replace retiring Superior Court Judge Ken Williams. All four will be on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot, with the top two proceeding to the Nov. 6 general election.


During opening statements, Johnson, Melly and Rohrer all mentioned their longtime residency in Clallam County.


Payne, a native of Texas who practiced in Wyoming before moving to Washington, joked, “I haven’t lived here all my life but I got here as soon as I could.”


Melly and Payne, both retired Marines, expressed interest in establishing a veterans court to address the unique needs of veterans who find themselves in the justice system.


Melly served in the U.S. Marines for two years during the Vietnam War and attended law school through the G.I. Bill. Payne spent 12 years in the Marines, retiring at the rank of Captain.


They also both expressed an interest in fostering a better bench/bar relationship for problem-solving.


When asked what is the most important quality a judge should possess, Payne answered, “You’ve got to be fair and have an even temperament.”


He said it is important to give people time to argue their case and not rush it.


“I think a judge needs to have knowledge of the law,” said Johnson, an attorney practicing mostly civil law in Port Angeles since 1978.


Melly said character and respect.


“They’re respecting you because you possess fairness…all those other qualities,” he said.


Rohrer also said even temperament. Some judges he encountered, though fair, weren’t very judicial, he said.


A bar member asked what case the candidates are most proud of and why.


Johnson said it was a second-degree murder case filed against an 18-year-old high school cheerleader from Forks. The girl shot her father to death while he was attacking her mother. Johnson was her defense attorney. The trial resulted in acquittal.


Melly said he sat on two committees to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty for defendants charged with murder.


“The attention to detail” made him proud in both cases, he said.


Rohrer said juvenile cases he’s handled stand out, especially ones where abused children have been put in better situations and, in one case, thanked him for his work years later.


Payne said the first-degree murder case against Etienne Choquette made a difference to him. Choquette was represented by Gary Sund, and Payne said what stood out to him was the way the attorneys interacted with each other and the jury.


The Clallam County Bar Association distributed a survey to members to rank the candidates. The results will be released in a few weeks.

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