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Judicial Seats Contested on August 7 Ballot

KCBA Bar Bulletin
June 7, 2012


July 2012 King County Bar Bulletin

Are you planning a few weekend getaways, some days lounging in the long-awaited Seattle sun or perhaps an actual summer vacation? When planning your calendar for the summer months, don't forget to mark August 7 as the primary election in Washington.

This year, many contested judicial elections will be on the ballot. In all contested judicial elections, the outcome of the primary plays a determinative role. Help get out the vote!

In Washington, as to partisan offices the primary determines the two candidates who will advance to the general election.1 Generally, the two candidates with the top number of votes advance. Thus, the primary narrows the field for partisan offices.

For nonpartisan offices, including judicial offices, however, the system is different. Where judicial seats are concerned, the Legislature provided that if one candidate in a contested primary election receives a majority of the vote, only that candidate advances to the general election.2 Thus, as a practical matter, the primary election determines a contest between two candidates for judicial office.

Where there are two candidates, barring a tie only one will advance to be unopposed in the general election. Where there are three or more candidates, the top two ordinarily will advance unless one candidate is able to win a majority. The primary election, therefore, is a crucial step in the election of Washington's judges.

This year, three Supreme Court positions are contested. Justice Susan Owens is running against two challengers, Douglas McQuaid and Scott Stafne. Recently appointed Justice Steven Gonzalez (formerly of the King County Superior Court) is running against a late challenger, Bruce Danielson. The position of retiring Justice Tom Chambers is being sought by four candidates: King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer, attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud, former Justice Richard Sanders, and former prosecutor and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg.3

The race between Justice Gonzalez and Bruce Danielson should be decided in August. The other two races likely will be reduced to two-way races come November. The primary will play an important role in determining the members of the Supreme Court.

In Division I of the Court of Appeals, three judges are up for reelection: Judge Ronald Cox, Judge Martin Appelwick and Judge Mary Becker. However, none has drawn a challenger; therefore, all three should advance to the general election provided they receive a minimum number of votes. The other appellate divisions do have contested positions, including six candidates for Position 2 in Division II, a seat being relinquished by Judge David Armstrong. If you have friends or family located in Division II or III, encourage them to assess the candidates and vote.

In King County, five Superior Court judgeships are on the ballot: departments 25, 29, 30, 42 and 46. Three candidates - Elizabeth Berns, Roger Davidheiser and Eric Schmidt - are vying for the seat of Judge James Doerty (Dept. 25), who is not seeking reelection. Hong Tran and Sean O'Donnell are running for the seat of Judge Sharon Armstrong (Dept. 29), who also is not seeking reelection. Retired Judge Suzanne Barnett's position (Dept. 46) is being sought by two candidates, Judy Ramseyer and Gary Ernsdorff. Finally, Judge Douglass North (Dept. 30) is being challenged by Kimberly Allen, and Judge Chris Washington (Dept. 42) faces three challengers: Sue Parisien, Marianne Jones and David Ruzumna.

In other counties, multiple Superior Court judgeships are contested. Again, the primary will determine many seats and send other candidates to the ballot in the fall.

Do your part to alert Washington citizens to the important positions up for election. Encourage those you know to do some research and vote in the elections on their ballots. You can refer people to for information about the candidates.

As an officer of the court, you can play a crucial role in educating your friends, family and neighbors about our judicial elections. And when the summer sun fades away and Washingtonians pick up their November ballots, the judicial candidates before them hopefully will reflect the choices of informed citizens who engaged in and understood the voting process.

The 2012 Primary Voters' Guide is available at

Averil Budge Rothrock focuses her practice on appellate review in the Seattle office of the Pacific Northwest regional firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. She serves as vice president of the KCBA Appellate Law Section. She can be reached at


2 RCW 29A.36.171(2) ("On the ballot at the general election for the office of justice of the supreme court, judge of the court of appeals, judge of the superior court, judge of the district court, or state superintendent of public instruction, if a candidate in a contested primary receives a majority of all the votes cast for that office or position, only the name of that candidate may be printed under the title of the office for that position.")