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Federal Way judicial candidates face off in forum for primary election

Candidates for the Federal Way Municipal Court judge position one faced off during a forum July 22 at Federal Way High School.

Candidates Rebecca C. Robertson, Matthew York, Mark S. Knapp, James A. Santucci and Williams Jarvis are contending for the position currently held by incumbent Michael Morgan. Two of the six candidates will proceed from the Aug. 18 primary election to the Nov. 3 general election. The judge elected to the position will hold a four-year term in the city’s municipal court.

The candidates were asked a range of questions regarding their qualifications, management style and how they plan to restore the public’s faith in the court, among other inquiries. Federal Way Chamber CEO Tom Pierson moderated the forum and asked questions submitted by himself as well as The Mirror’s staff. An audience of nearly 100 people also submitted questions.

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Rebecca C. Robertson

Rebecca C. Robertson is a Seattle resident and pro tempore judge in Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah and Kirkland. She has served pro-tem for the past two years. She has nine years of experience as a prosecuting attorney. Robertson has extensive background in criminal law and a strong connection to domestic violence law.

She is currently chair of the Washington State Bar Association’s Criminal Law Section and the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Board. She is co-chair of the Criminal Justice Institute and has served on several other boards and committees since 2000.

“I know how to be a calm, fair and just judge,” she said.

Some of her responses to forum questions:

• Court management: Robertson promised to treat all court employees fairly, equally and with respect.

• Level of engagement in the city: She recognizes the importance of engagement in the city, but said being too closely connected can influence a judge’s fairness in decisions.

• Restoring the public’s faith in its court: Once the community sees its municipal court employees treated with respect, restored faith in the court will follow, she said.

• Importance of supervisory skills: Treating employees fairly and working as a team are important, but a judge’s job is to make rulings on legal cases, Robertson said. “A judge is elected to be a judge on the bench,” she said. “You are not hiring a supervisor.”

• Specialized court programs: Having specialized courts, such as DUI court, is beneficial, but the municipal court must smoothly operate its current court functions before any new and specialized courts are pursued, Robertson said.

Contact: www.rebeccacrobertsonforjudge.com or rcr101@hotmail.com

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Matthew York

Matthew York currently serves as a King County prosecutor and pro tempore judge in municipal courts. He has experience in criminal law and has tried a breadth of cases, from traffic tickets to murder, he said. For the past two-plus years, he has focused on search and seizure and Miranda rights law, and has experience issuing warrants. York touted his management and conflict-resolution training from Willamette University.

He made several references to the need for an improved management team in the court and specifically mentioned a presentation given by current municipal court judges David Larson and Michael Morgan to the city council. The presentation noted the need to improve relationships between the city and court.

Some of York’s responses to forum questions:

• Avoiding liability costs to the city: The way to avoid liability costs to the city and taxpayers is to be polite, respectful and ethical on and off the bench, York said.

“You’re a judge all the time, not just when you’re sitting in the room.”

• Participation in judicial committees: York is not part of any Washington State Bar Association committees. He said this should not discourage residents from voting for him because his distance from the committees allows him to make an impartial decision as a judge.

• Specialized court programs: York said he approved of a DUI court, but, if elected, would focus first on “cleaning up existing problems.”

• Experience: Criminal law training, conflict-resolution training, a variety of law experience and management expertise make York the best candidate for the job, he said.

Contact: www.yesforyork.org or matthew.york.forjudge@gmail.com

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Mark Knapp

Mark S. Knapp is a Federal Way lawyer with more than 20 years experience in misdemeanor and felony law, including criminal defense and traffic infractions. He specializes in firearms law (before filing for election, he wrote a regular column on the topic for The Mirror). Knapp has resided and practiced in Federal Way for 18 years. He presented himself as an everyday citizen, with a background in law as well as blue-collar labor. He worked as a miner and steel worker in his younger years. He is active in the Federal Way Kiwanis and community service. His credentials do not set him apart from his opponents, but his character and integrity do, he said.

“I’m not a politician,” Knapp said. “This is the first time I’ve ever run.”

Some of his responses to forum questions:

• Experience: Knapp does not have experience serving as a judge. He said experience is important, but that does not mean the person with the most experience is most qualified for the job. “Obviously, judicial experience is important,” he said. “Life experience is important too.”

• Municipal court vs. district court: “District court is a fiefdom,” he said, adding that “farming out” court services to the county “dilutes the quality of justice right here.”

• Restoring the public’s faith in its court: “It starts with character,” he said on restoring faith in the court if he’s elected. “I need to listen and have some humility.”

• Specialized court programs: Despite the costs that will accompany the addition, the Federal Way Municipal Court needs armed security guards, Knapp said. This would ensure the safety of judges, defendants, employees and visitors, he said.

• “I’m just kind of your common man,” he said in his closing statement. “I’m not too well-polished, but I’m not that rough, either.”

Contact: www.firearmslawyer.net or knapp.m@comcast.net

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James Santucci

James A. Santucci has more than 30 years experience as a lawyer trying misdemeanor and felony cases. He currently works at the Lanz Firm in Seattle. The firm specializes in real estate and family law. Santucci has worked as part of three-person and two-person attorney teams, and gained managerial experience at those firms. He is interested in becoming Federal Way’s next judge, not because he wishes to propel his political career, but because he cares about Federal Way’s future, he said.

Some of Santucci’s responses to forum questions:

• Municipal court vs. district court: Santucci said he feels the city council would be wise to continue operating its municipal court. The solution to a fully functioning Federal Way court is not to give up on it, he said. “The solution is simply to elect better people,” Santucci said.

• Avoiding liability costs to the city: Liability costs stem directly from a judge’s management style, he said. For the city to avoid liability costs related to its judge’s actions, it is necessary for the public to elect a judge that can effectively manage the court and its employees, he said.

• Specialized court programs: Santucci said he would need to be in office and have the chance to evaluate the court’s resources before he could speculate on what additional programs are needed or affordable.

• Restoring the public’s faith in its court: A calm, rational management style that keeps the court out of the news will go a long way to begin restoring the public’s faith in its municipal court, he said.

Contact: JamesASantucci@aol.com. Santucci does not have a Web site dedicated to his campaign.

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Williams Jarvis

Williams Jarvis has a background that sets him apart from his opponents, he said. He practiced law in state and federal courts for approximately 20 years. He was an in-house claims attorney and general counsel during that time. For the past five years, Jarvis has worked in the non-profit field. He is the director of the North Seattle Community College Foundation, which provides scholarships and financial aid from the proceeds of its non-profit financial counseling division. He is also a board member for Hope House of Bainbridge Island, a non-profit providing housing and residential support for developmentally disabled adults. Jarvis has managed budgets as large as $2 billion, according to his Web site. He also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.

“I’m running as an impartial candidate,” he said.

Some of his responses to forum questions:

• Experience: Jarvis does not have experience as a judge and admitted being absent from law practice for several years. He said personal character is more important than experience. “I don’t think (experience) trumps the need for integrity, demeanor and character,” he said.

• Restoring the public’s faith in its court: The reputation of the Federal Way Municipal Court is the direct reflection of its leadership, Jarvis said. Solid leadership will lead to an improved image.

• Importance of supervisory skills: The key to effectiveness in the court is to recognize employees’ accomplishments, Jarvis said.

• Avoiding liability costs to the city: Liability costs will be avoided if a judge that takes personal accountability for his or her actions is elected, he said.

• Specialized court programs: Jarvis said he sees the need for a mental health court and DUI court in Federal Way. These would remove offenders who do not belong in the traditional court system, he said.

Contact: www.jarvis4judge.com or jarvis4judge@gmail.com

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Michael Morgan

Michael Morgan is the city’s current presiding judge. He was elected in 2005 and began his duties in 2006. He attended law school at Notre Dame and Seattle University. After graduating law school, he established a law practice, with a focus on criminal law and governmental relations. In 1989, he took a position with a King County law firm, where he worked on cases such as aggravated murder, complex fraud and civil commitment proceedings. He remained there until his election as Federal Way Municipal Court judge.

Some of his responses to forum questions:

• Court management: Morgan said none of the candidates vying for his position would be “manager” if elected. He said many of the court’s managerial duties are handled by the court administrator.

• Municipal court vs. district court: The district court would be more costly and cause the city to lose control of its court operations, Morgan said. “You lose control, you lose money,” he said.

• Avoiding liability costs to the city: Morgan cited an unnamed study that found court employees, not judges, create liabilities for the city. He said these risks will exist as long as the court employees are present in the system. Morgan said he will not sign “hush money agreements” and waste taxpayer money on paying those employees severance packages when they decide to vacate their positions.

• Level of engagement in the city: Morgan resides in Federal Way and said he supported the community and its functions before becoming a judge, and continues to do so.

• Specialized court programs: The court and its programs function well, he said. Under his leadership, the court is working to offer a teen traffic and a DUI court.

• Morgan read a letter from a former defendant as his closing statement. The letter was sent to the city and thanked Morgan for his compassion and understanding in handling the defendant’s case. The writer said he or she was a good person who made a bad mistake and Morgan was able to recognize that. “I want to continue to have an impact on citizens’ lives in Federal Way,” Morgan said.

Contact: www.judgemorgan.com or judgemichaelmorgan@yahoo.com. Information is also available on the city’s Web site.

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Notes

Though each candidate kept his or her temper in check, and nobody launched an attack on Morgan, it was clear that many of the candidates were inspired to run for the position because of Morgan’s actions in his courtroom this past year. He fought the city to keep a report of his court’s harassing environment from the public. The state Supreme Court ruled that report must be released. Morgan was also reprimanded by the Commission on Judicial Conduct for using profane language toward the police chief, making intimidating comments toward his staff and making inappropriate jokes and comments to his staff, among other acts.

Jarvis said he was drawn to run against Morgan because he was deeply disturbed by the judge’s actions, which left him with a sense that the judicial system had gone haywire. He said he felt Morgan was using his esteemed position to avoid taking responsibility for his inappropriate actions as a judge. Jarvis said he was “offended by a public official using his office to shield himself from improper conduct.”

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