Commissioners will grill 6 judge candidates

County commissioners will interview six men who applied to replace a retiring district court judge.

Island County commissioners will interview six of the seven men who applied to replace a retiring district court judge.

Judge Bill Hawkins announced earlier this year that he would be leaving his elected position as of May 31. The appointment has special significance since it will be an unusually long time before voters will get to make their choice for the position. Due to the timing of Hawkins’ resignation, the appointment will last until the general election in November 2026 is certified.

The six attorneys will take the hot seat at the April 24 commissioners meeting.

The applicants include Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme; Matt Montoya, the county’s contracted public defender; Ronald Costek, the current district court commissioner; Civil Deputy Prosecutor Joe McPherson; Andrew Scott, a family law and criminal defense attorney; and Bradley Duncan, a Coupeville resident and attorney at a major Seattle law firm.

The commissioners declined to interview a seventh applicant who works as a judge pro tem in another county.

Among the candidates, Ohme and Montoya have the longest tenures in the county law-and-justice world and cite widespread support from that community.

Ohme has worked in the prosecutor’s office since 2003 and handled many of the most serious, high-profile cases over the last two decades. He has the endorsements of his boss, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks, as well as Sheriff Rick Felici and Oak Harbor Police Chief Tony Slowik.

In a letter of recommendation, Banks focused on Ohme’s legal experience, his even-handed judgment and his “unflinching commitment to protecting the rights of the defendants he sought to convict.”

“He has tremendous experience as a neutral decision maker,” Banks wrote, “guided by his knowledge of the law, his courage and his sense of fairness and justice.”

Montoya has worked in public defense in the county since 2008, according to his resume. He provided public defense services to indigent clients for the city of Oak Harbor from 2009 until 2023. In 2014, he also became the director of Island Defense, the firm that provides public defense for all clients assigned by the county.

Montoya has represented clients in many serious cases, including high-profile murders. His long list of references include eight people who work at the county jail in different capacities, notably Jail Chief Jose Briones. In addition, he lists County Clerk Debra Van Pelt and officials at Island County Human Services among his supporters.

According to the resumes, Costek is the only one of the six candidates who has recent experience on the bench. He has been a district court commissioner for both Island County and Oak Harbor for the last six years. As he explained in his resume, a court commissioner has the same authority as the elected judge. In district court, he oversees misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor criminal cases, civil lawsuits in cases of $100,000 or less, small claims court, traffic infractions, protection orders and search warrants.

Before being a court commissioner, Costek was a partner in a Mount Vernon law firm for 13 years and worked as a deputy prosecutor in Skagit County prior to that.

Scott runs a family law and criminal defense firm with three attorneys and four paralegals in offices in Freeland and Oak Harbor. Before moving to Whidbey Island, he had a 22-year career in Missoula, Montana, where he worked in varied positions in the legal profession, including as an acting municipal court judge from 1997 to 2001.

Scott was also the chief prosecutor attorney for six years, the senior deputy city attorney for Missoula for 10 years and an attorney in private practice.

McPherson has been the civil deputy prosecutor for Island County since 2022. In that role, he represents the county in legal matters related to land use, tax appeals, contracts and lawsuits. He provided legal advice to the county commissioners and other county leaders.

Before working for Island County, McPherson worked for Kitsap County public defense for seven years. He was also worked for private law firms, as a public defense attorney in Pierce County and as a jail transition case manager.

Duncan, a graduate of Cornell Law School, has been a partner at several of the largest and most successful law firms in the nation. He started out as a law clerk for a federal judge before working in a series of firms that handle a variety of litigation and transactional matters.

He was a partner at a 1,000-lawyer firm in Washington D.C. before moving to Seattle and becoming a partner at a succession of other major law firms, including David Wright Tremaine. In 2022, he and a colleague established the Seattle office for Snell & Wilmer, where he is senior counsel.