Suzanne Hayden to run for Clallam County District 1 judgeship

A longtime attorney for Clallam Public Defender is running for the Port Angeles-area District Court 1 judge position being vacated by Rick Porter, whose pay-or-appear program she opposes.

Suzanne Hayden, 61, announced her candidacy in mid-March for the four-year seat, which adjudicates misdemeanor cases with jail sentences of up to one year, and traffic and civil cases. Candidate filing week is May 14-18.

Hayden has been a criminal defense lawyer for 23 years in Clallam County, working out of District Court 1, Forks-area District Court 2, the Lower Elwha Klallam tribal court, Clallam County Superior Court, and for the past 16 years as a juvenile court lawyer.

Hayden said she opposes Porter’s pay-or-appear program, which opponents say is unfair to indigent defendants and clogs the Clallam County jail with people arrested for not paying fines.

The program requires offenders to pay fines based on their ability to pay or do community service work.

Violating its conditions can lead to a $150 arrest warrant and at least a night in jail while awaiting a court appearance.

Porter said the program in Clallam County would be abolished later this year under House Bill 1783, which has been approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.

Under the new law, criminal defendants determined to be indigent could not be assessed fines or court costs.

“A lot of it is just common sense,” Hayden said. “You are taking very poor people who have been found to be indigent for legal purposes, then you are trying to be heavy-handed about getting money out of them when everyone is legally saying these are poor people. Now the legislation is recognizing that. It’s always very affirming when the Legislature or the higher courts recognize what you already are saying is something that should be done.”

Hayden said she wants to focus more on education and rehabilitation.

“I need to come in and look at everything with new eyes. That’s what I’m used to doing in juvenile court — what’s the issue, how can we fix it?”

Hayden said in a news release that her goal is to oversee a court “that helps offenders to change direction for a life of dysfunction and offending to one of productive community involvement.”

She said would employ remedies including community service work, job retraining and earning credentials through high school equivalency tests and General Educational Development certificates “in a way that truly benefits the offender, as well as holding them accountable for their behavior,” she said in the statement.

Hayden, a Bermuda native conversationally fluent in Japanese and German, was head of the escrow department at Security Pacific Bank in Palm Springs, Calif., before she attended college.

She graduated from the University of Washington Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies in 1990 and Gonzaga University School of Law in 1995.

Hayden is the mother of two grown children adopted by her and her husband, John Hayden, a Clallam Public Defender lawyer.

She met him when she interned at the agency in 1995 — when Dave Neupert, who Wednesday said he is running for the same judicial position, was the agency director.

Hayden said she has been endorsed by Port Angeles lawyers Karen Unger and community activist Norma Turner.

She said she likes having “very strong women” on her team.

Hayden would be the first elected female District Court 1 judge since the elected position was established in 1978, according to county election records.

“I think the county would really like to see a woman judge step in,” Hayden said. “I think it’s time.”

Paul Gottlieb is a Senior Staff Writer with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@ peninsuladailynews.com.

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