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Tuesday, October 17, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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It's Issaquah lawyer vs. Foley (not Tom) in high-court race

Seattle Times staff reporter

Mayor "Ugly Ed" Norman, who runs the second-hand appliance store in the Pacific County town of Raymond, swears by him, calling Jim Foley a man who "looks out for the small normal people," a state Supreme Court candidate who'd make "a great justice."

Pacific Superior Court Judge Joel Penoyar, however, is giving his support to the other guy: Tom Chambers. And Raymond City Attorney Michael Turner, who knows Foley, shivers at the thought of him on the state's highest court.

As Election Day nears, the race for Position 9 on the court can be boiled down to a race between Chambers, an Issaquah attorney, and his numerous supporters in the legal and other professional organizations, and Foley, a lawyer from Olympia, and the people like Norman who like his populist message.

In his trademark bow tie, traveling the state giving folksy witticisms, Foley has shattered the idea of what a Supreme Court candidate should be.

To the legal community, a Supreme Court justice should be a scholarly lawyer who interprets the laws of the state, understands the history behind them and writes opinions based on the body of case law.

Instead, Foley talks in terms of "bringing common sense to the judiciary" and criticizes the Supreme Court for being "too politically active."

Chambers, who campaigns for easier and quicker access to the courts, takes his opponent seriously, no matter how unorthodox he may be.

Both are seeking to replace Justice Phil Talmadge, who is retiring. The position pays $123,600 annually and has a six-year term.

Ever since last month's primary when a third candidate - state Court of Appeals Judge Ken Grosse - lost to Chambers and Foley, controversy has followed the race, with debate over how judges are chosen and the perception that the Supreme Court is becoming too politicized.

In 1998, Foley made the most of the fact that his last name was the same as that of the former speaker of the U.S. House, Tom Foley of Spokane. And although he was a little-known lawyer from Pacific County, he waltzed through the primary election, only to lose to Faith Ireland.

This time, the 45-year-old Olympia resident downplays the name similarity.

While Chambers has more than $220,000 in contributions, including donations from the Washington Education Association, the Washington Council of Firefighters and the AFL-CIO, Foley not only claims no contributions but flaunts the fact.

"Endorsements and contributions are too partisan," Foley said, noting that Chambers also received contributions from the State Patrol union. "What's he going to do if a trooper comes before him in court? Recuse himself?

"The court needs to be neutral and just for all."

Judicial candidates are not supposed to know who contributes to their campaign, and Chambers said he has refused to look at the list.

"I'm very careful not to know who made contributions," he said.

As far as endorsements, Chambers said, he has such a broad base of support that he likely would have supporters on both sides of a case that would come before him in court.

"They know I have intellectual integrity," he said.

Chambers pointed out that Foley accepted contributions and endorsements during his 1998 Supreme Court campaign and received the endorsement of the Gun Owners Action League of Washington State.

Without any money, Foley isn't distributing campaign literature or preparing ads. He has a Web site and attends candidate forums and newspaper editorial interviews.

Chambers, by contrast, has a variety of campaign advertising and also is speaking at forums and to editorial boards.

Chambers says running against someone with the familiar name of Foley gave him no option but to try to raise as much money as he can. "It would have been easier for me if my mother had named me Dan Evans," he said.

A 57-year-old Issaquah resident, he has twice been selected as Trial Lawyer of the Year by his colleagues and has served as president of the Washington Bar Association. He has been an arbitrator and has written books and prepared a video to help lawyers and citizens navigate the court system.

He has a law practice in North Bend that handles mostly personal-injury cases. His professional success has earned him enough money to start a foundation that funds children's causes.

He credits his success to the work ethic his parents taught him. Chambers grew up in a shack behind a Wapato gas station his parents owned and he put himself through college by racing cars at the Yakima Speedway.

Now, he's running for election for the first time.

"The Supreme Court has a tremendous impact on each and every one of us. It's the judicial branch of government that determines whether justice is affordable, slow or expensive," Chambers said.

"I think I've developed unique qualifications. I've tried hundreds of cases across the state and know my way around the courtroom."

The youngest of six children, Foley has been an attorney for 10 years.

A "cradle-to-grave" lawyer who handles a wide variety of cases and maintains offices in Olympia and in Raymond, Foley is sensitive to claims that people mistakenly voted for him, thinking he was the former speaker of the House.

"If I'm intelligent and know the law and love the law, why shouldn't I run? It's not my fault that I'm named Jim Foley," he said.

"People like that. Maybe they think Matlock (a TV character) and that resonates with them and makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside. Maybe they think honest lawyer or good lawyer," he said.

That's not how the King County Bar sees him. It rated Foley as "not qualified" and Chambers as "exceptionally well-qualified."

President Fred Noland said he was surprised at the outcome of two competitive Supreme Court races in the primary, including the one involving Foley.

"I have concern about the fact that voters made a choice that does not seem to reflect the views of people who have studied these issues," Noland said.

"The judicial evaluation committee probably put a lot more time and energy into judging who is going to be a good judge than someone who goes into the voting booth without preparation."

Chambers' supporters think Foley lacks the background Chambers has in handling complex cases. "It seems we'd want someone with more experience," said Penoyar, the Pacific County Superior Court judge.

Chambers' detractors, on the other hand, wonder if he would be likely to favor trial lawyers like himself.

Name familiarity is a powerful factor in winning votes in a judiciary race, said Jenny Durkan, a Seattle attorney and member of the state bar's Board of Governors. And that may give Foley an edge.

King County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Burrage ran for office several times before being elected, despite being rated as unqualified by the King County Bar.

Durkan thinks that with each election, Burrage's name became more and more familiar, so that questions about her competency became less of an issue to voters who recognized her name. (This year, Burrage lost to opponent Laura Gene Middaugh).

"I worry about our courts," Durkan said, declining to say whether she thinks Foley's election would be a plus or a minus. "Not that the people make a bad choice, it's just more politicized."

Chambers is hoping that come Nov. 7, voters will choose experience over name. Foley is counting on his folksy, grass-roots effort to translate that into victory.

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Jim Foley

Age: 45

Residence: Olympia

Occupation: Attorney

Education: B.S. in political science, Western Washington University; J.D., University of Puget Sound

Campaign Web site: www.jimforjustice.com

Campaign theme: Common sense in the courtroom.

Rating: Not qualified.

Tom Chambers

Age: 57

Residence: Issaquah

Occupation: Attorney

Education: J.D., University of Washington

Campaign Web site: www.tomchambers.com

Campaign theme: Level playing field.

Rating: Exceptionally well-qualified.

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

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