In most cities, incumbent municipal judges run unopposed, or the races are uncomplicated low-key affairs — but not here in Federal Way.
Four years ago, current Presiding Judge Michael Morgan defeated appointed Judge David Tracy in a hotly contested race. This year, Morgan is being challenged by Rebecca Robertson, who came out of the primary leading Morgan by a comfortable margin due to several controversies in the court.
With four years on the bench, Morgan enters the race with the most direct experience. His strategy to avoid responding to controversial issues and focus on his accomplishments is a smart move. In mailers, Morgan states he has eliminated backlogs, improved efficiency and saved taxpayers money. He lists former governors along with a former U.S. senator as supporters. He also has been very active in the community, supporting many organizations. He will subtly contrast this involvement and his longtime residency with his opponent, who lives in Seattle.
Some in the community were surprised that he wasn’t eliminated in the primary. But Morgan spent more than $25,000 to finish second, and likely will spend that or more through the general election. Morgan is a formidable campaigner and a candidate who will run hard.
Morgan’s opponent, Rebecca Robertson, is not well-known in the community and has focused her campaign on highlighting her experience as a judge pro tempore, prosecuting attorney and her “Well Qualified” rating by the King County Bar Association. Her list of endorsements includes many well-known judges. She has raised the controversial issues confronting Morgan, but usually, it has been low-key and indirect. Her strategy has been to present herself as a qualified alternative who will bring stability to the court.
Robertson is clearly the front-runner, and Morgan has a lot of ground to make up. But this is a race to watch. It could be closer than many think.
The other municipal judge position is held by appointed incumbent David Larson. Larson has been on the bench for over a year and is well-known in the community. He was previously active in local politics and served on the school board. His list of endorsements includes many community and political leaders, and his budget will be about $30,000. He portrays himself as a voice of “reason” in the issues between the court and City Hall. He received a rating of “Exceptionally Well Qualified” from the King County Bar Association.
Larson is an experienced campaigner. His “Our Judge” flier subtly raises the residency issue. Larson lives here and his opponent doesn’t. But Larson has also had some controversy both with the school board and the court. Larson’s insertion of himself as the investigator in an issue regarding Judge Morgan was questioned by several observers.
In her campaign, Renee Walls, who is Larson’s opponent, highlights her service as a judge pro tempore, along with her experience in municipal and criminal law as a prosecuting attorney for several suburban cities including Federal Way. She received a “Well Qualified” rating from the King County Bar Association and has been endorsed by many from the legal field, including some in Federal Way.
Walls is cautious in raising controversial issues surrounding the court or Larson, but also makes it clear she would have handled the Morgan issue differently. She believes the court needs a fresh start with both judicial positions being replaced. There wasn’t a primary for this position, although Larson is probably the front-runner. Walls, however, is a credible opponent.
Attend their debate forums if you can and watch their advertising. If Walls can create doubt about Larson, the race could get close. If not, Larson wins comfortably.