You know that judge who just gave that slime-ball servicer your house? Or the one who decided what was best for your kids after never knowing them? Or the one who decided you don’t get a day in court? How qualified were they to be making those decisions?
When citizens are forced to interact with their government it is most often through the judiciary. Yet it is my experience that most of us know relatively little about the people who have been elected to judge us and construe our laws.
It is a fair question to ask whether the the judge that is going to preside, or has presided, over your case was well equipped by nature and temperment to do so?
Because of Washington’s peculiar laws judges generally do not run in the general November elections where our Federal and State legislative and executive candidates compete for office. Most judgeships are decided in a primary election, where far fewer voters turn out and those that do are mainly partisans supporting one of the traditional political parties’ legislative or executive candidates.
Significantly, most judgeships are decided in the August or September primary, rather than at the more well attended November election because if no one runs against the judge, the sitting judge is automatically elected. If a judge gets more than 50% of the vote that judge is also automatically elected. As you will see, this gives judges incredible job security at a time when many of us have none.
It is important for anyone who contemplates running for a judgeship to do so early enough in the process that the electorate and special interest groups can timely identify the candidate. Special interest groups will rarely go out on a limb to support a candidate they believe has little chance of defeating a sitting judge who can make or break their clients’ cases.
So if a candidate wants to run against a sitting judge, they should do their research and seek support early in the process. For example, a good time to contemplate whether you believe you have the experience and temperament to run for a judgeship in 2016 would be now.
My experience is it is better not to jump into a campaign; you should put your little toe in first and then wade further.
In today’s world the reward for being elected as a judge is not only an opportunity to serve the people; but also a reasonable salary in a world gone crazy with economic inequality and student debt. For example, the 2014 salaries for an Associate Supreme Court Justice was $172,531 a year. Court of Appeals Judges earn $164,238 a year.Superior and District court judge make $156,363 and $148,881 a year, respectively.
In 2013 the medium per capita income for persons in Washington was $30,742.
One of the best reasons for running is to shake up a system that fails to serve the people. Way back in 2003 it was estimated that less than 85% of Washington residents could afford to go to court with regard to those family and personal issues which affected them most. That was over a decade ago, well after tens of thousands of homes have been lost to illegal foreclosures, and thousands of families have been broken apart. A system which does not afford legal representation to the vast majority of its citizens has obvious problems.
Yet last year, there were only 22 contested judgeships in the entire State. Sixteen, out of seventeen incumbents won their elections. The two Supreme Court races were pretty much jokes as far as competition went; Justice Stephens ran against a candidate who couldn’t have been seated even if he had won.
Astonishingly, all fourteen Court of Appeals judicial candidates ran unopposed to claim their almost $165,000 per year salary. Over 85 of the district and superior court judges in Washington State won their approximately $150,000 salaries without even so much as running a two yard sprint.
There are many of us who believe that the judicial system would benefit from competition among those desiring to apply our laws to our people. If you are a lawyer, think about applying the law in a new way: from the bench. Ask others if they think running will benefit you and the community. The worst that can happen is you will lose, and that’s not always the worst thing which can happen.
If you know a good lawyer who you believe might be a good judge, ask them about considering the prospect of helping our country by considering running for the bench.
|Washington judicial elections, 2014|
|General election candidates:||165|
|Incumbent success rate:||99%|
|Competition – general election|
|Percent of candidates in contested races:||27%|