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Voters get turn picking judge
By PAT JENKINS
King County Superior Court Judge Steve Gonzalez, appointed to the position last February by Governor Gary Locke, hopes to win the support of a wider constituency in the primary election next Tuesday.
Gonzalez is opposed by David Larson, a Seattle attorney who lives in Federal Way. The winner in countywide voting will complete the remaining two years of a term that was vacated by Ann Schindler when she was named to the state appeals court, leading to Gonzalezs interim appointment until the next election.
Previously, Gonzalez was an assistant U.S. attorney. A native Californian who studied in Japan and China, he lives in Seattle with his wife. They are expecting their first child in September.
Larson, part of the Williams, Kastner & Gibbs law firm, has been a trial lawyer for 17 years. He and his wife have two sons and have lived in Federal Way for 35 years.
Because of concern about impartiality when presiding over cases, campaign laws limit judicial candidates discussions of certain legal issues. To help voters choose between Larson and Gonzalez, the Mirror posed the same three questions to each candidate. In addition to their qualifications, they were asked for their opinions on whether term limits should be imposed on judges. Their answers follow:
Mirror: What qualities do you possess that qualify you to be a judge?
Gonzalez: I am an experienced judge. I am professionally competent in both criminal and civil law with extensive experience as a local and federal prosecutor, having tried cases involving international terrorism (U.S. vs. Ahmed Ressam), witness intimidation, possession of firearms by felons, theft, assault, domestic violence and many other crimes. I am also an experienced private-sector business attorney. I care about the Constitution and the rights of witnesses and victims. I am known for efficiency and hard work. I received the Directors Award for Superior Performance and the Attorney Generals Award for Distinguished Service to our nation for my work at the U.S. attorneys office.
Larson: Experience, common sense, passion for fairness, courage, humility, patience, ability to work hard, and demeanor. I have been a 35-year resident of Federal Way, 17 of which have been as an attorney. I have a proven commitment to true justice. I want to try to represent the needs of the average person by making changes from within the court system. We need to reduce demands on the court system by providing means for people to solve their own problems without resorting to expensive litigation that drains the resources of the parties and the taxpayers. The court system must adapt to the needs of the people it serves, or we will continue to see a growing lack of confidence in the law, the court system and government in general. My courage to confront these hard issues is the quality that I intend to tap into the most.
Mirror: What distinguishes your candidacy from that of your opponent?
Gonzalez: I am endorsed by law enforcement organizations, including Seattle Police Guild, King County Police Officers Guild, King County Corrections Officers Guild (rated me exceptionally well-qualified), and the Latino Peace Officers Association. I have broad bi-partisan support. Seven state Supreme Court justices and over 65 other judges in King County endorse me. I was rated exceptionally well-qualified by three bar associations.
Larson: I do not want to criticize my opponent. He has many good qualities. I am a candidate who wants to have the court system work for the average citizen. I am less concerned about what public officials have endorsed me than I am about implementing changes to improve the court system. My suggestions for change may actually alienate the public officials that hand out these endorsements. The only endorsement I care about is the voters endorsement.
Mirror: Should judges have term limits, and how long do you plan to serve as a judge?
Gonzalez: In effect, judges do have term limits in the form of mandatory retirement. Experienced judges are needed. I do not believe imposing term limits will improve the efficiency or fairness of the justice system, so I oppose judicial term limits. I plan to serve as a judge for as long as I am effective and the voters want me there.
Larson: There are good and bad points regarding term limits. Ultimately, it is a public policy decision to be made by the voters, not by elected officials. It would be a significant conflict of interest for elected officials to decide their own term limits, or lack thereof. I would respect and obey the outcome of such a decision by the voters. I will serve as judge as long as the voters will have me do so.
Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and by e-mail at email@example.com