It speaks volumes that the retiring Island County superior court judges, the district court judge and a healthy portion of the legal community have endorsed Carolyn Cliff to replace Judge Vickie Churchill.
Cliff is running against fellow South Whidbey resident Kathleen Petrich, a retired Seattle attorney who was a partner at big-name law firms.
The other superior court judge, Alan Hancock, will be replaced by Oak Harbor attorney Chris Skinner, who is running unopposed.
The nonpartisan race for superior court judge may not be as sexy as other races.
There are a wide range of topics the candidates aren’t able to talk about, including all things political. Their campaigns are more like extensive job interviews than free-for-all political campaigns.
The candidates’ competence in understanding the law and making unbiased decisions is what matters. And nobody can evaluate this better than people in the legal professional who have observed the candidates.
Like prosecutors, superior court judges wield huge power over the lives of individuals. State lawmakers and county commissioners may set policy and budgets, but judges have the power to decide who children live with, whether an abused women should get an extra level of legal protection, who gets what in divorces, what evidence can be used against a defendant or how much time a convicted defendant should get in prison.
Presiding over juvenile and drug courts, they set a tone that may influence the direction of young people’s entire lives.
By some members of the local bar association Petrich is accused of being a big-city attorney carpetbagging in “quaint little” Island County. She said she can learn the wide range of law practiced in superior court in a couple of years, while local attorneys have spent a lifetime learning the diverse range of law practiced in superior court.
Petrich argues that her “outsider” status is a big advantage because she’s not a part of the county’s insular legal culture. She has no enemies or friends. She won’t be partial or play favorites among the attorneys because she doesn’t have a lifetime of interaction with those people.
Indeed, Petrich might be the right person for the job if change is needed.
But it’s not.
Island County has long been known for the quality of its judges. Neither candidate denies this. Churchill and Hancock were both attorneys on the island before they moved to the judiciary. That was a strength that made them wiser jurists.
Cliff is the right candidate to continue the tradition of thoughtful, knowledgeable analysis of the law.