Elections

Meet the candidates: Federal Way Municipal Court judge | Election 2009

Four judicial candidates for Federal Way Municipal Court participated in a forum Oct. 13 at Federal Way High School.

Rebecca Robertson is challenging incumbent Michael Morgan for position 1. Renee Walls is challenging incumbent David Larson for position 2.

Position 1

• During his opening statement, Michael Morgan taped a paper target in front of his seat "so you all know who is who." He said that as presiding judge, and since his election in 2005, the court has cut expenses and improved services. He has 25 years of experience in criminal law, handling mostly felony cases, he said. "88,000 people should be glad I'm judge," he said, referring to Federal Way's population.

• Rebecca Robertson cited 10 years of experience as a prosecuting attorney in criminal misdemeanor cases as well as 2 1/2 years as a judge pro-tempore (temporary) at courts throughout King County. She was rated "well qualified" by the King County Bar Association and has received several endorsements for her candidacy. When asked why she's running, Robertson said she felt the need to help people and make a difference in the community.

• Robertson, a Seattle resident, said she will be involved in the Federal Way community and schools if she is elected. Morgan, a Federal Way resident, cited how his community contacts helped bring a domestic violence impact panel to the court.

• Morgan said when he took office in 2005, court proceedings were closed to the public, which he "stopped in five minutes." The court should be run based on following the law, he said.

• In the voters pamphlet, Morgan's statement said that Robertson "is often removed from cases because of affidavits that declare she is prejudiced." Robertson refuted that claim, saying that every judge has received an affidavit of prejudice, and that she has received some from DUI defense attorneys requesting a different judge for their case. She said she is called back regularly by the courts where she serves as a pro-tem judge. Morgan said Robertson has received more affidavits of prejudice that he has.

• When asked about lawsuits and investigations over the court's workplace environment, Morgan said it was ruled he did not cost the city any legal fees. Morgan said an investigation of the court's working environment, dubbed "The Stephson Report," was not fair, and said he stands by his lawsuit to block the report's release. He accepts responsibility over the legal decision that he lost on, he said.

• Robertson said she would treat every individual in the court with respect, and treats people the way she wants to be treated. As for who should be presiding judge, Robertson said that should be worked out between the court's two judges, and that she would want David Larson (position 2) to have the title if they both win the election.

• As for continuing as presiding judge, Morgan said "I don't want the job anymore, and if someone else wants it, they can have it." Morgan said he has addressed misconduct in the court, whether directed at him or another judge, with honesty. "I'm here today without a media filter involved so that people can hear the truth," he said.

• Robertson cited her experience in prosecuting domestic violence cases and advocates for the prevention of domestic violence.

• Morgan said he has helped secure grants to dedicate toward domestic violence issues, and "created calendars for domestic violence cases."

• Robertson said the court needs a new judge without scandals, and vows to create a functional and respectful work environment: "We need to move on."

• Morgan held up a giant yellow paper that described hostile workplace issues that existed in 2003 before he was elected: "It was a false issue then, and it's a false issue now." He said he has taken a polygraph test to disprove false accusations against him.

• Robertson asked Morgan if voters feel he has credibility, given the information that's out there regarding allegations of his behavior. "I did not impersonate anyone," he said, referring to an alleged Public Disclosure Commission violation that he used a court employee's name on a newspaper blog. He said he has been the victim of "some awful cyber-tricks," and that it has happened to other public officials. Robertson said that the allegations against Morgan are clear as evidenced by video surveillance and key card records.

• Morgan asked about Robertson possibly cutting court clerks' pay, saying he is against the idea because the court makes enough money. Robertson said she is not privy to budget numbers and would need to look at the issue.

• Robertson said she is ready and willing to take the court in a new direction, and said there are issues with the presiding judge that could be solved. She wants to make this a model court that makes good news. "I know how to make this court run efficiently."

• "I know it's an uphill battle. I knew questions would be directed at me," Morgan said in his closing statement. He said his proudest endorsements come from his wife and daughter, who were at the forum. He read an e-mail he received from a former defendant who praised Morgan's work on the bench, and said "I wish I was treated by the print media the way I treat defendants in my court." Morgan said there is another report on the court as well as e-mails he receives that the public doesn't get to read.

Position 2

• Renee Walls cited about 10 years of experience as a prosecutor that will help her run an efficient court in Federal Way, where she began her career as a prosecutor. She said her experience working with court administration and law are assets. She was rated "well qualified" by the King County Bar Association.

• David Larson said his 18 months as a Federal Way judge have been tough but gratifying. He has lived in Federal Way for 42 years and has been rated "exceptionally well qualified" for the position by the King County Bar Association. He has received numerous endorsements, including the union that represents the courts.

• "The ability to bring people together is what we need," Larson said. "Living here is important to that standpoint."

• "At the end of the day, it's a court," said Walls, adding that the most important part of being a judge is to conduct business in court. "I filed (to run in Federal Way) because this is where I started my career," she said. "This is where I want to be."

• Larson said he enjoys being a judge and having an impact in his hometown. The court can lead to a healthy community, and he invites anyone who wants to come watch the process.

• Walls said the public has access to information and statistics, but feels a "state of the court" address at city council meetings could be another option for keeping the public informed about the court.

• Walls said her experience as a judge pro-tempore in Sumner and Des Moines will pay off on the bench. "You need to have experience in the law you are administering."

• Larson referenced a public record that indicates Walls had just 8.25 hours total of pro-tempore judicial experience before filing to run. After filing, she increased that total to 26.25 hours.

• Larson said he respects people for who they are and wants employees of the court to feel valued. "The only product we deliver in the justice system is human dignity."

• "At the end of the day, it's court clerks doing the work," Walls said in response to how court employees should be treated.

• Walls said that if she and Rebecca Robertson are both elected, she would be happy if Robertson wanted to be presiding judge.

• Larson said he would be honored to be presiding judge, and that he wants the responsibility. He said he would reach out to the community to "let them know what the court does."

• When dealing with domestic violence issues and prevention, Larson said he has taken a leadership role, including a local steering committee: "I'm right in the trench."

• "I prosecute and protect the safety of victims on thousands of domestic violence cases" to make sure they're not "revictimized," Walls said.

• In an effort to restore confidence in the Federal Way court amid negative press, Larson proposed a court improvement plan to save the court from possible termination by the city. "I stepped up to save our court," he said, adding that he has tried and will continue to "remedy things that caused these issues."

• "Trust isn't a means to an end. Trust is an end itself," Walls said, adding that her experience will help make the court environment work.

• Walls asked Larson why he didn't step up and stop the hostile workplace incidents at the court. "It assumes I haven't done anything," Larson said, adding that he did everything he could. Larson said he asked Michael Morgan to consider stepping down as presiding judge, and that he could not remove Morgan himself because of the laws. Walls countered that Larson's hands were not tied, and that he could have gone to the Supreme Court to make a change.

• Larson asked Walls about the amount of open cases under her name and how she would recuse herself from nearly 8,700 cases. Walls said those cases can be sent to another judge's court, and that the amount of cases that are still open is "incredibly miniscule."

• In closing, Walls said the amount of pro-tem experience she has is "not much." She said she has more experience and knowledge in working with a variety of courts.

• In closing, Larson said he's done everything he can to counsel Morgan on the workplace issues. He said having Walls as an opponent reaffirms his work over the past 18 months as a judge.

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