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Voters have a judicious choice

Port Orchard attorney Jonathan Morrison didn’t have a clear plan when he visited the Kitsap County Elections Office on July 27. But after determining that incumbent Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen was unopposed in her bid for a full term, he decided to put his own name forward.

“I think voters need to have a choice,” he said. “Judge Olsen is the third Superior Court judge in a row to be appointed without facing the voters. If I lose, I will still have offered a them a chance to make a decision.”

Olsen, who was one of Gov. Gary Locke’s final judicial appointments, has earned high praise during her short tenure.

This, along with the fact that no incumbent Superior Court judge in recent memory has ever lost re-election, gives her a strong advantage.

“I enjoy this job, and I enjoy working with people,” Olsen said. “It’s the culmination of all the skills I have developed over the past 18 years. But I need to earn the people’s trust every day, to decide cases fairly and impartially. And as long as I maintain this trust, I hope to serve in this office for many years to come.”

While both candidates express similar views of the job’s requirements — a fair and just application of statutes as defined by the parameters of the law — there is a clear contrast between the two, as evidenced by their choice of role models.

For his part, Morrison admires current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his constitutional interpretations and writing skills. Olsen, meanwhile, favors former Justice William O. Douglas for his environmental support and his willingness to admit his mistakes.

Morrison, 39, is a local product. Born in Bremerton and educated at Washington colleges, he currently practices in Port Orchard. He filed for election in what was once his third grade classroom in Givens Community Center.

Olsen, 47, has lived on Bainbridge Island since 1988.

Olsen was admitted to the Washington Bar in 1986 after serving as a White House intern for President Jimmy Carter. She has worked as a lawyer for 18 years, 10 as a pro-tem judge.

Both have extensive community service experience. Olsen has served on the Canine Search and Rescue Team, and is active with the Kitsap County Humane Society and Domestic Violence Task Force, while Morrison has coached pee-wee football for several years.

Morrison has degrees in finance and philosophy in addition to his law degree, but has only practiced law for four years.

“You don’t need to practice for 20 years in order to know the law,” he said. “And Judge Olsen has only eight more months experience as a Superior Court judge than I do.”

Morrison admits he is facing an uphill battle, at one point asking, “What do I need to do to get people to vote for me?”

Still, he thinks he can win.

Aside from the incumbency, Olsen has a lot of local heavyweights in her corner. An endorsement letter, distributed before Morrison announced his candidacy, included, among others, recommendations from all three Kitsap County commissioners, Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge, and every member of the Superior Court bench except Judge Leila Mills.

Mills said her name was not on the letter because she doesn’t participate in any endorsements, but she heaps praise onto her colleague for her judicial skill.

Additionally, Olsen received an overwhelming endorsement from the Kitsap Bar Association, with only one attorney rating Morrison as “qualified.”

“The Bar Association is a good, old boys’ club, and I don’t belong,” Morrison said. “No one wants change around here. Of course Russ Hauge will endorse Judge Olsen. She’s a former prosecutor.”

Olsen, who took office in January, has run an aggressive campaign. The first press release declaring her candidacy arrived in March, while the endorsement letter was distributed in the spring.

While a judge doesn’t campaign in the same way as other offices, Olsen said she is running her re-election effort on the advice of the experts.

“I knew as soon as I was appointed that I would have to run,” she said. “On the day I was sworn in, Gov. Locke took me aside and said, ‘Your campaign starts today.’ I took this advice to heart.”

Olsen has declined to debate Morrison formally, or even meet in a two-way, on- the-record format.

Morrison isn’t pressing for such a meeting, although he admits that, “It would help the voters if we had this kind of discussion.”

Currently, Olsen recuses herself from any case in which Morrison participates, something that may slow justice down just a little.

While this is court procedure, Morrison said it wouldn’t bother him to appear before Olsen at this time.

“She has always treated me with respect,” he said. “Even if I were to appear in front of her now, I have no doubt she would be fair.”

Morrison also denies his candidacy is at all personally motivated, a payback for Olsen’s recent sanctioning of him for failing to appear. Instead, he said he is running against Olsen because it is this year’s only open seat.

The judge’s race will be decided during the Sept. 20 primary, which is a mail-in election.

Any voter not receiving their ballot by the end of next week should contact the county auditor, (360) 337-7129.

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