News

So hard to judge

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Judicial candidates are typically difficult to judge, as President George W. Bush’s recent nomination of Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court has shown, and many voters find themselves at a loss when checking the box next to a candidate’s name.

Because of that, the King County Bar Association rates candidates in judicial elections to provide voters with some information about judicial candidates’ past performance on the bench and their professional reputations among their colleagues.

The association also rates judges based on decisionmaking, efficiency, demeanor, impartiality and overall performance criteria.

While some candidates –– Federal Way Municipal Court contender Michael Morgan among them –– refute the King County Bar Association’s objectivity, association officials say they don’t have any agendas outside providing the public with information to make candidate decisions.

Morgan declined interviewing with the association’s screening committee for its latest candidate ratings and received a score of “not qualified,” which he claimed is unfair and not adequately explained. His opponent in the general election next month, Judge David Tracy, did participate in the process and was rated “well qualified.”

Still, John Gastil, an associate professor in the University of Washington’s department of communication, said most voters won’t look at or use the bar association’s candidate ratings or judicial evaluations, anyway. In fact, voters generally are at a loss when it comes to comparatively minor races, he said.

Gastil specializes in political communication and has written a book titled “By Popular Demand,” in which he explores how to get voters more involved in campaigns like municipal court judge races.

He said voters typically get their information first from the county voters guide, which they peruse carefully for coded language that might give them some indication of a candidate’s position on issues that are important to them. The problem, he said, is “if you’re a good judicial candidate, you can write that statement so you sound like a good candidate without saying anything.”

He added people generally get frustrated and give up with the voters guide because they don’t feel like they’re getting anywhere.

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