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Judicial candidate claims retaliation from lawyer group

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

After receiving a “not qualified” rating from the King County Bar Association’s judicial screening committee, Federal Way Municipal Court judge candidate Michael Morgan is alleging the committee is paying him back for declining to participate in the judicial screening process.

His election opponent, Judge David Tracy, who did participate, received a “well qualified” rating by the body.

Morgan said he declined to participate because the bar association “solicits confidential information from unnamed sources in evaluating candidates. Anonymous sources in political campaigns often have political agendas, which makes the information they proffer less than reliable.”

Morgan added he also declined to participate because he disagrees with the bar association on several issues, like whether judges should be appointed or elected, whether the ratings panel should have members from a cross-section of the community, not just Seattle, and whether candidates should meet bar association standards on certain issues.

According to the association, the judicial screening committee is comprised of 70 lawyers from across the county and the association has never had a policy that judges should be appointed.

The committee’s rules and procedures state that even if a candidate declines to participate in the screening, the committee will still evaluate the candidate, making “reasonable efforts to obtain adequate information to credibly evaluate the candidate.”

Committee members may contact people who have personal knowledge of the candidate, review public records, conduct electronic searches, research professional discipline organizations and read judicial evaluation surveys, according to the rules and procedures. The committee may also send an e-mail to lawyers to seek information from anyone who has experience with the candidate.

The committee assures anyone willing to comment about the candidate that the information he or she provides remains confidential. The committee doesn’t accept anonymous information, according to the bar association.

In response to the “not qualified” rating he received, Morgan alleged the bar association was getting back at him for not participating in the screening process. He noted that even though he’s more qualified today to be a judge than he was in 2000, when he was a candidate for King County Superior Court, the committee rated him lower than it did five years ago.

The bar association “is clearly not objectively rating my candidacy but is demonstrating their frustration with my refusal to seek their organization’s endorsement,” said Morgan,.

Gary Maehara, president of the bar association, disagreed.

“The committee rates candidates. It does not endorse them. While reference information is kept confidential, the committee doesn’t use anonymous sources,” he said. “The committee followed all of its usual procedures in screening Mr. Morgan on Oct. 7 and he received a rating of not qualified.”

The dispute was debated at a candidates forum last Thursday at Todd Beamer High School., where Morgan said the bar gave Tracy some lower marks than other judges. Tracy responded that Morgan was critiquing him through a rating system that he himself wouldn’t cooperate with.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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