Appeals Court race features contrasting styles, records

The election for the Division 2, District 1, Position 1 Court of Appeals pits an incumbent judge seeking a third term against a challenger who promises a stricter interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

“I feel this is my calling, my life’s work,” said Robin Hunt, 60, first elected to the bench in 1996. “There is still a lot more I can do to bring the court into the community and draw attention to how the Court of Appeals works.”

“This election is very important,” said challenger Tim Ford, 43. “We need to hold our courts accountable to enforce laws and protect our rights. It takes a lot of time and money to get to the Court of Appeals, and too many of Judge Hunt’s decisions have been reversed.”

Like other statewide races, this contest is subject to the new “top-two” primary structure. Judicial races, however, have different rules whereby a candidate receiving 50 percent plus one vote will not face a general election contest.

Since there are only two candidates running, one of them will receive a majority.

As a result, the race between Hunt and Ford will be decided during the primary.

Ford has based much of his criticism of Hunt on her reversal rate, and that several high-visibility cases have been overruled by higher courts.

Aside from the fact that the Court of Appeals is “of last resort,” a faulty decision on that level will be difficult for any defendant to contest.

“Judge Hunt has made a lot of bad decisions,” Ford said. “We need a change. If an attorney makes a mistake, it can be easily reversed, but a judge is held to a higher standard. A judge is a professional, like a dentist. If a dentist makes a mistake on a root canal you are going to be in a lot of pain. If a judge makes a mistake your life will be ruined.”

Hunt acknowledges a reversal rate of 3.1 percent, which reflects that of the court as a whole.

“All judges get reversed,” she said. “If you got rid of every judge that got reversed there would be no one on the bench. It’s a grey area. We are trying to make the most correct decision, knowing that someone higher up may disagree.”

Hunt said she does not consider the possibility of reversal when making a decision.

Both candidates underscore the necessity to publicize the court’s activities, calling it the least understood of the state’s judicial divisions. Aside from the fact that it is a three-judge collaborative panel, it also operates under a more stringent set of rules than the average courtroom.

Hunt can already take credit for bringing the court to the community through a series of visiting sessions, although she was continuing rather than establishing the process.

Several times each year she holds court throughout the district—which includes six counties—ruling on cases and including an educational component for the attendees.

“People stop me at the supermarket, or other public places, and thank me for bringing the court to their town,” she said. “It’s important that people understand that real court is nothing like ‘Judge Judy’ or ‘Law and Order.’ We need to make the difference between entertainment and real life clear.”

Help in this clarification comes from the state-run cable company, TV-W, which broadcasts Supreme Court proceedings.

“Judge Alexander has a fan club as a result of this,” she said of State Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Alexander.

While members of the federal bench and U.S. Supreme Court justices are appointed, local judges must face the voters.

While campaigning and fundraising require a delicate balance, both candidates feel it provides necessary voter input and forces the judges to be accountable for their actions.

“I like campaigning,” Hunt said. “It gives me better understanding of what people are thinking.”

Adds Ford, “I enjoy getting out there and talking to people about why they should vote for what I believe in. And to talk about my opponent’s record.”

In many races voters will use the candidate’s party membership as a deciding factor, something that is theoretically not possible in a non-partisan judge’s contest. Sometimes a candidate can’t escape the partisan brush.

Ford has worked for the Building Industry Association of Washington, a strong supporter of Republican Dino Rossi’s gubernatorial campaign, and works for Attorney General Rob McKenna, another Republican.

Hunt has had two terms to appear nonpartisan, and her endorsements are politically diverse. Still, she said, “I have been dis-invited from some Republican events recently, and I don’t know why.”

Hunt said she did not expect any opposition this year, as she had run unopposed in 2002.

She learned of Ford’s candidacy from a third party, and thinks her opponent lacks the background to handle a job that has so many esoteric aspects. Ford feels that Hunt has made some reckless decisions and has outlived her efficacy on the bench.

Both agree that they need to get people interested in the race and give the voters the tools in order to make up their minds. And there will be no second chance for the person who comes in second.

Hunt feels that the timing of the primary, the dog days of August, will decrease participation.

Ford agrees, saying, “During a presidential cycle it is difficult to get people to care about the lower races. Interest goes from the top down.”

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