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Wednesday, September 20, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Clallam County jurist advances in upset

Seattle Times staff reporter

STATE SUPREME COURT

Susan Owens, a Clallam County district judge and the only woman in the race for state Supreme Court Position 2, will go on to the Nov. 7 general election, a primary-race upset that surprised even her.

"I'm thrilled beyond comprehension," Owens said last night. "I thank the voters. I thank my friends and my children."

Owens, 51, whose contributions came mainly from friends and family, campaigned little but relied on her connections with other judges statewide.

"And they got me votes," she said. As the votes came in last night, she had solid support in King, Kitsap, Clark, Benton and Thurston counties, where she campaigned little or not at all.

"I'm not an unknown," she said. "I'm president-elect of the District and Municipal Court Judges' Association, and I've been a judge for 19 years."

Owens, the top vote-getter, will campaign against longtime Yakima prosecutor Jeff Sullivan, 56, who was leading the other five candidates.

Sullivan was rated by the King County Bar Association as being "well qualified" to Owens' rating of "adequate."

Trailing for the seat occupied by Chief Justice Richard Guy, who is retiring after 11 years, were former King County Superior Court Judge Terry Carroll of Seattle; Federal Way attorney and mediator David Larson; Tacoma attorney Doug Schafer; Barrie Althoff of Mercer Island, chief disciplinary counsel for the state Bar Association; and Geoff Crooks, Supreme Court commissioner.

Carroll, Althoff and Crooks had received the county bar's highest rating.

In Position 9, Jim Foley, an iconoclastic attorney with a "million-dollar name," will be in the general election once again.

Foley, 45, from Olympia, stunned the law profession in the 1998 primary when he beat out a Supreme Court justice and then lost the general election to Faith Ireland.

At the time, he boasted of having the advantage of a name voters might mistake for Tom Foley, a former congressman and speaker of the House.

Jim Foley's opponent will be Tom Chambers, 56, of Issaquah. Foley and Chambers, past president of the state bar and state trial-lawyers association, edged out Court of Appeals Judge Ken Grosse in the three-way race for the seat being vacated by Phil Talmadge.

Both contests showed that Supreme Court races, especially during the primary election, have relied heavily on name and gender politics ever since 1990, when an unknown lawyer from Gig Harbor named Charles Johnson defeated Chief Justice Keith Callow.

The reason, most political pundits speculated, was that Johnson's name was the same as a King County Superior Court judge, a well-known Seattle author and a local television newscaster.

State Attorney General Christine Gregoire was angry last night that voters seemed to pick people with familiar-sounding names over more-qualified candidates, and she questioned whether the state should think about picking the justices another way.

Citing Crooks' candidacy, she said she believed he couldn't win because of his name.

In an election year like this, Supreme Court races "get lost," Gregoire said, and suggested it might help to move them to an off-year election.

In the other high-court races on yesterday's primary ballot, Justice Bobbe Bridge easily walked past Scott Schwieger in Position 7. Bridge will thus appear on the general-election ballot alone.

Bridge, 55, of Seattle, was appointed in November last year by Gov. Gary Locke.

Justice Gerry Alexander, 64, was unopposed for his re-election to a second six-year term on the court in Position 8.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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