A Supreme Contest

Prosecutor Pamela Loginsky challenges Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson.

My greatest fear is complacency," says state Supreme Court Justice Charles W. Johnson, a 12-year incumbent. Based on that statement, Johnson should feel grateful to Pamela Loginsky, the fiery prosecutor who is challenging him for election to position 4 on Washington's highest court.

Despite the fact that Loginsky only spent $3,800, still works full time, and has a small list of endorsements consisting mostly of other prosecutors, she ran very well in the primary, finishing just 4 percentage points behind her opponent.

She attributes her strong showing to a couple of things: The voters like her message—"There is no one on the court with criminal-law experience"—and they are dissatisfied with Johnson's performance because he is terribly out of touch. "There is a disconnect between what is happening in the courts in Washington's 39 counties and the Supreme Court," she asserts.

Johnson warns that his opponent's legal point of view is too limited and biased to be suited for the court. "A single-issue, narrow- focused candidate is not the kind of viewpoint that the Supreme Court deserves," he says. As for his own performance, he says his unusually broad list of endorsements shows just how wrong Loginsky's assessment is.

LOGINSKY'S CAMPAIGN against Johnson is animated by a number of issues, but one in particular stands out: his stewardship of the Supreme Court's rule-making process.

The Supreme Court is in charge of rules that affect the functioning of Washington's courts. Loginsky, a staff attorney for the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys for the past four years who worked for the Kitsap County Prosecutor's Office for 10 years before that, says this is no academic exercise. "Many victims are being unnecessarily harmed" because of the poor rules, she argues. She cites the example of a brutal rape and murder in Pierce County that was committed by a man whose previous sexual assault conviction was reversed because of a poorly written "time for trial" rule.

Under both the state and federal constitutions, defendants are entitled to a "speedy" trial. A Supreme Court rule passed in the 1970s spells out what that means in Washington: 60 days if the defendant is in custody, 90 days if the person is out on bail (there are numerous exceptions).

Loginsky says she had been trying to get the Supreme Court and Johnson to reform the rule, but they had refused to acknowledge the problem. "Rapists and child molesters are being released" because of this rule, she says. Then, Loginsky continues, the state Legislature made noises about writing a new law to address the matter, and the Supreme Court finally responded by setting up a task force to reform the "time for trial" rule.

Johnson has a very different view of what happened. While he acknowledges that a tragedy did occur in Pierce County, he doesn't feel it rests on his shoulders. "Prosecutors dismiss cases all the time," he notes. "Some of those people are bad people and go out and commit more crimes."

He says in order for the Supreme Court to make a rule change, someone from outside the court has to bring forward a proposal. "Loginsky is very familiar with this process," he says. In fact, she's proposed changes on more than one occasion, he claims. "She knows my phone number," says Johnson, but she didn't ever contact him about the "time for trial" rule. In fact, no one did, he says. When the Legislature took up the issue, at the urging of Pierce County prosecutor Jerry Horne, among others, the Supreme Court was able to move forward, he explains. He also notes with satisfaction that Horne is on his list of endorsements.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge, who has endorsed Johnson, sat on the rules committee during the "time for trial" debate. "I confess to not being a fan of the speedy-trial rule," he says, "but Johnson tried to get people to come forward but hasn't gotten a lot of input."

Johnson points out that this rule is not only meant to ensure defendants' rights but also to provide victims some sense of closure. "Victims like instant justice. The faster you can deliver, the better for the victim."

BESIDES THE MANY specific legal indictments Loginsky makes of Johnson's tenure, she feels he epitomizes a Supreme Court that has lost touch with legal reality. "They need people with ground-level criminal-law experience" to bring balance to the court, she says. "I work with attorneys all over the state; I hear what their problems are. Some of the initiatives of the court are totally impractical. They don't have a clue."

Johnson says he practiced small-town law for 12 years before joining the court. He proudly represented "blue-collar" clients for whom "$50 was a lot of money." He was very aware that sitting on the court could remove him too much from the day in, day out reality of the state's legal system. That's why he has gone out of his way to keep in touch by spending his free time lecturing at the state's law schools, speaking to community organizations, and filling in for small-town judges. "It's not a job you should ever find easy. That's why I've involved myself in so many things," he says.

Okanagon County Prosecutor Richard Weber has endorsed Loginsky. He says, "She is extremely bright and knowledgeable. She will bring a perspective of someone who has prosecuted crime. It would be really helpful to the court. She has a lot of support among the prosecutors."

That's exactly what worries Ron Ness, a Johnson supporter and criminal-defense attorney from Bremerton who has been opposite Loginsky on some cases. "She has such a narrow viewpoint. You like to have justices that listen to both sides. I have no doubt what she would do in criminal matters. People should be concerned about that."

Loginsky says if she's elected, her experience in the trenches of criminal law will help improve the Supreme Court for both criminal-defense attorneys and prosecutors. "I totally believe in honoring and protecting defendants' rights. I am the court of first resort [as a prosecutor]. I have put the kibosh on an awful lot of cases. My protection of defendants' rights is on record."

Johnson is disturbed by the notion that the court needs a particular point of view. "Judges are supposed to be fair and impartial. No one should be able to point to me and say, 'This is his viewpoint.' For someone to say the court needs a prosecutor's viewpoint is an indication of their bias. That's inconsistent with impartiality."

He contrasts Loginsky's limited endorsements with his broad ones. His list includes such odd couples as Democrats and Republicans, law-enforcement groups and civil libertarians, environmentalists and builders—groups that usually are on opposite sides of electoral debates. "What this shows is that they believe I'm someone they can trust to judge their cases without bias. I think the voters want the same thing."

ghowland@seattleweekly.com

SW PICK

We only wish all choices for state Supreme Court were as easy as deciding between incumbent Charles W. Johnson and challenger Pamela Loginsky. Johnson is the clear choice.

Johnson is a 12-year veteran of the court who has managed to earn the respect of a wide range of people throughout legal, political, and civic communities. His passion for fairness has earned him awards, including one this year for dedicated service from the American Bar Association's Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice. He has the support of many polar opposites, including both of those brilliant, legal archenemies Justice Richard Sanders, a libertarian, and retired Justice Phil Talmadge, a staunch man of the state. Johnson has worked hard to keep in touch with the concerns of the average citizen, many of whom he represented before joining the Supremes. His legal opinions are widely praised as both well researched and well written. The court would be hurt by his loss.

Loginsky is a passionate advocate for criminal prosecution. That's precisely the problem—she's too passionate. In addition, the range of her experience is far too narrow and her demeanor during the campaign suggests someone after vengeance rather than justice.

Seattle Weekly Editorial Board

politics@seattleweekly.com

 
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