Thursday, September 3, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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King County Superior Court -- Return Four Incumbents, Select Top Newcomers

PERHAPS the most difficult, least informed votes citizens cast are those for superior court judge. Some voters skip that portion of the ballot altogether.

Yet few public officials intersect with more diverse segments of the community than the men and women who preside over its courts. The best judges are those who bring to the bench a combination of experience, intellect, communication skills and an ethic of public service.

This year an unusual number of candidates are vying for judgeships in King County Superior Court, due partly to five seats in which there is no incumbent. In addition, four sitting judges are opposed by challengers.

Here are our recommendations in those nine races:

Position 2, Harriet Cody. A family-law specialist in private practice for 13 years, Cody has prior experience in the city law department and with Evergreen Legal Services. Before that she was a teacher in Seattle and Lake Washington school districts. She has an impressive record of community service, including time as a foster parent. She is highly rated by the various bar associations. Her opponent, Michael Anderson, has practiced law for 13 years. He is a dedicated lawyer, but neither his legal experience nor his record of community service is a match for Cody's.

Position 8, Jay V. White. In this three-way race, White's 20-year legal career, Ballard community service and extensive involvement in professional activities make him the best choice. In 1989, he received the Seattle-King County Bar Association Pro Bono award. One opponent, Seattle attorney Michael Danko, is refreshingly outspoken, but lacks White's diverse legal experience and community support. The third candidate, Marilyn Sellers, triumphed over personal challenges to become an attorney, but her eight years of legal experience is not competitive in this field.

Position 9, William Garling and Will Patton. This race among four qualified candidates is not likely to be over until the November general election. (Judicial candidates must get over 50 percent of the votes to win in the primary.) Jo Anne Alumbaugh is a former Superior Court Judge in Kittitas County and has been a pro tem judge in King County. William Ellis is commissioner of the Washington State Court of Appeals. Against other opponents either one might get the endorsement.

But Garling and Patton are the standout candidates in this foursome. Garling has 12 years of trial experience as an assistant attorney general assigned to Labor and Industries. He has served as pro tem judge in Seattle Municipal Court and as an arbitrator for the superior court. Patton is the only one of the four rated exceptionally well qualified by the Seattle-King County Bar Association. He began his legal career in Seattle with the Federal Trade Commission and since 1979 has been with the city attorney's office, most of that time with the utilities division, which he now heads.

Position 14, James Lobsenz. Voters cannot lose in this contest. Both Lobsenz and Brian Gain are top-notch candidates. Whoever loses on Sept. 15 should be high on the appointment list for the next court vacancy. Gain is looking to move up from his current position as presiding judge of King County District Court, where he has earned the respect of his colleagues for his steady, even-handed leadership. In Lobsenz, however, voters have a chance to put on the bench a lawyer widely viewed as one of the best and brightest in the state. He is a former supreme court law clerk in two states (California and Maine), spent three years as a King County deputy prosecutor and two years as a public defender in appellate courts. He has been in private practice since 1985, emphasizing civil rights.

Position 16, Michael Hayden. In a contest between two good candidates, Seattle attorney Michael Hayden deserves the nod over Renton lawyer Zanetta Fontes. Hayden has 15 years of trial experience in civil law, has served as an arbitrator through the King County Superior Court, gave free legal defense to Central American families seeking political asylum in Washington, and has been active in community and church work. He received the highest rating of the Seattle-King County Bar Association.

Position 18, Judge Jerome Johnson. The incumbent, a 20-year-veteran, is one of King County Superior Court's most highly regarded jurists and should be returned to the bench. The only criticism of Johnson by his opponent, Howard Todd, is that he won't commit to serving his full four-year term. Johnson has been honest - saying he's eligible to retire in June of 1993 and hasn't ruled that out. But he says he is ready and enthusiastic to serve until he makes that decision. His continuous outstanding performance has earned him that opportunity.

Position 28, Judge Carol Shapira. The incumbent deserves re-election despite an autocratic attempt to chill the challenge of Mark Livas by making a telephone call to his boss - an acquaintance of hers. Livas filed for Shapira's job because he was upset with her handling of his divorce case. He said she endangered his job as legal counsel for Ace Novelty after he filed. He is on unpaid leave. Shapira now says she regrets calling his boss. It's been a sorry soap opera. But it has little to do with who is more qualified to sit on the Superior Court bench. Livas, a tax attorney, has no trial experience. Shapira has the experience and should be retained.

Position 31, Judge George Finkle. The incumbent is an outstanding jurist who should be re-elected. Finkle was rated exceptionally well qualified by the Seattle-King County Bar Association and is highly regarded in the legal community. His opponent, attorney John Costo, chose to run against Finkle because the judge was one of the most recent gubernatorial appointees. That's not a compelling reason. Costo says voters deserve a choice. Finkle, who has broad and diverse support, should be that choice.

Position 37, Judge James McCutcheon. The incumbent is an 11-year veteran of the King County Superior Court. Although he has only an adequate rating from the Seattle-King County Bar Association, he is a better choice than Helga Kahr, a private attorney with little more to offer as a candidate than a few stints as judge pro tem in Municipal Court.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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