Dear Federal Way: What do you want in a judge? | Bob Roegner

What do the citizens of Federal Way want in a judge?

Incumbent Judge Michael Morgan has drawn five challengers with different backgrounds in a race where the voters may be confronted with a recurring sub-theme many may not have considered.

Voters certainly will consider legal background, experience as a judge or judge pro-tem, supervisory experience, endorsements and bar association ratings. But the issue beneath the surface is residency.

How important is it to you as a voter that your municipal court judge actually lives in Federal Way? It’s not a legal requirement. Four years ago, candidate Michael Morgan defeated incumbent Judge David Tracy at least in part on that issue. Morgan had a good background, an impressive list of endorsements and community support, and Tracy had had some difficulties in office. But to many, residency became an election consideration. Morgan lived here and Tracy didn’t.

This time around, Morgan is the incumbent and has had some controversy. But Morgan can also point to accomplishments in the court system. He lives here and is not only active in community events, but he and his wife are strong supporters of many charities and programs. The other candidates for the position bring differing resumes to the debate.

Mark Knapp lives in Federal Way and is well-known as the “firearms lawyer.” He’s a constitutionalist whose theme is “Integrity, Credibility, Respect and Transparency.” Knapp has not run for office before, has no experience as a judge, and has a minimal supervisory background.

James Santucci has several years practicing law in areas that would be consistent with the type of cases a judge might hear. He lives in Federal Way and has been endorsed by Federal Way Mayor Jack Dovey. Santucci has no experience as a judge and no hands-on supervisory experience.

Williams Jarvis lives in Seattle and does primarily pro-bono services in the non-profit sector. He has no experience as a judge, but did serve for a short period of time in the Snohomish County prosecutor’s office.

Matthew York lives in SeaTac, but has stated that if he wins, he will move to Federal Way. His theme is “Experience that Matters.” He has worked in the King County prosecutor’s office for seven years, has served as a judge pro-tem in Kent, and while he has no public sector management experience, he was a manager for Century Theaters. He has also been endorsed by some area judges.

Rebecca Robertson has been an assistant city attorney for the City of Seattle for six years and was an assistant city attorney for the City of Kent prior to that. She serves as a judge pro-tem in both the Issaquah and Kirkland municipal courts. She does not have supervisory experience, but has been endorsed by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Robertson lives in Seattle and her theme is “Experience, Integrity, Professionalism.”

All the candidates bring different skill sets and backgrounds that voters are going to have to evaluate when casting their ballots. How much weight will voters place on experience as a judge? Morgan, Robertson and York have that experience. How much does public sector supervisory experience count? Only Morgan has significant experience.

How much will the public rely on residence? Morgan, Santucci and Knapp live here and are well-known. The others don’t live here and will have to work hard to get their names and messages out. There are two schools of thought on residency. Some believe living in Federal Way and being active in the community are extremely important. Others believe that residency is not an issue — that job-related experience counts more, and not knowing very many people in the community improves objectivity.

Many of the candidates have been slow starting because they were hesitant to spend campaign resources when the Federal Way City Council was considering whether to abolish the court. With the county offer coming in higher than the cost of retaining the municipal court, the candidates have become more active, even though the city council has not made a final decision.

When reviewing each candidate’s experience, Morgan and Robertson appear to have the best resumes for the job. When the candidates who were interviewed were asked which two candidates would be the most likely to advance to the general election, they felt it would be themselves and Robertson.

Voters, it’s up to you. Each candidate brings something positive. But what counts more? Experience? Controversy? And is residence an issue or not?