Platt seeks to unseat Judge Churchill

The big surprise in candidate filings last week is that longtime Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill has a rival.

Coupeville attorney Craig Platt will challenge Churchill for the nonpartisan position. The election will be resolved in the Aug. 19 primary as long as one of the candidates receives more than half the votes.

Platt, formerly of the firm Platt and Arndt, handled the county’s public defense contract for more than 15 years until he lost the bid in 2006. Now he has a private law office with his wife, attorney Mimi Buescher.

Platt said he first considered running when the venerable Judge Richard Pitt announced his retirement 16 years ago and asked Platt to take his spot on the bench. Platt felt he was too young and inexperienced then, but now he’s older and wiser.

“I think I would make a good judge, but I’m not a politician,” he admits.

In court, Platt is known to be a passionate, even quarrelsome, advocate for his clients’ rights. But the Stanford Law School graduate emphasized that he has extensive legal experience beyond criminal defense. He ran a prosecutor’s office in Saipan. He has been involved in “major, complex civil litigation” both in Seattle and Island County.

“I have experience in all areas of law — prosecution and defense, civil and criminal,” he said. “Not many attorneys can say that.”

Platt has handled many of the biggest cases in recent county history, often making his arguments before Judge Churchill. About 13 years ago, he won an acquittal for Oak Harbor resident Margaret Wolff, who was accused of murdering her son-in-law.

Platt also represented James Sanders, an Oak Harbor High School student who killed 15-year-old Elaine Sepulveda. He defended James Alexander, an Oak Harbor man convicted of homicide by abuse in the death of his 21-month-old son.

Most recently, Platt handled two high-profile vehicular homicide cases and prepared an argument questioning the accuracy of the state crime lab. Randi Shelton and Jonathan Everbeck ended up pleading guilty in the separate cases.

Platt is president of the Washington Defender Association.

This will be the fourth election for Churchill, who has served 12 years on the bench. For most of that time she and fellow Judge Alan Hancock presided over Superior Courts in both Island and San Juan counties.

Churchill ran unopposed the last two times, but said she welcomes the opportunity to tell the community about all that’s been accomplished in the court.

“I think I’ve done an excellent job and I should be reelected,” she said. “Both Judge Hancock and I are considered to be among the best judges in the state.”

Churchill’s list of accomplishments as a judge are exhaustive. She spearheaded the effort in the Legislature to give San Juan County a judge of its own. As a result, she and Hancock don’t have to fly to Friday Harbor anymore. She pushed to get the juvenile detention center built. She helped start the juvenile and adult drug courts. She is working on creating a family drug court.

Also, she was involved in the creation of the community accountability board, which involves the community in the courts and the lives of juveniles who have gotten in minor trouble with the law. She’s working on beginning a teen court.

At the same time, she was president of the Superior Court Judges Association in 2007, which she describes as a great honor.

Churchill is careful not to criticize her rival, but she did take one subtle swipe.

“In this position, judicial demeanor and being able to treat people fairly and with courtesy are very important,” she said. “I believe I can do that and have a distinct advantage.”

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