It all depends on the definition of ‘judge’

Candidates for the open Kitsap County Superior Court judge position are now sparring about the definition of the word “judge” and whether or not the use of the word in an advertisement is deceiving.

Last week candidate Bruce Danielson began running ads about his judicial experience, claiming that he worked as “an acting judge with the Superior Court as an arbitrator since 1989."

The words “judge,” “Superior Court,” “arbitrator” and “1989” were shown in bold type.

The ads ran in response to assertions by Jeanette Dalton, Danielson’s opponent, that Danielson lacked the judicial experience in her background. Dalton has served as a pro-tem (or substitute) judge in several local municipal and district courts, also since 1989.

Danielson now says his arbitration experience is equal to the pro-tem experience claimed by Dalton.

A letter signed by former Kitsap Superior Court judges James Maddock and Leonard Kruse and printed in local papers states, however, “We do not believe that Mr. Danielson has any judicial experience and has never acted as a Superior Court Judge. Acting as an arbitrator is not acting as a judge of any court. The deception and misstatement of his non-existent judicial experience should, by itself, disqualify him from being considered by the voters as a qualified judicial candidate.”

Both Kruse and Maddock, perhaps not coincidently, are listed on Dalton’s Web site as supporters. Dalton said she was aware of the letters but did not encourage or initiate them.

“I am not comfortable addressing this,” she said. “I think it is between Bruce and the voters rather than Bruce and me. But I think a lot of people — and not just my supporters — were disturbed by his characterizing himself as an ‘acting judge.’”

After first planning to remove the word “judge” from the advertisements, Danielson has now decided to leave it unchanged. He also disagrees with the interpretation of the arbitrator’s role, as it is put forth by Dalton’s supporters.

“An arbitrator does everything that a judge does,” Danielson said. “He hears cases and decides on the outcome. In Superior Court, the only thing that decides whether you get an arbitrator or a judge is the dollar amount attached to the action.”

Danielson said the cut-off point is $50,000, with everything above that limit going in front of a judge.

Danielson has only worked as an arbitrator in King County, although no location is specified in the ad.

The implication, his opponents say, is that Danielson has worked with Kitsap County Superior Court.

“King County is where I have always been n arbitrator,” Danielson said. “I only have so much time to devote to this, otherwise I would do more of it in Kitsap.” 

Danielson and Cruse agree on one aspect of the arbitration process, that it is less formal than an actual courtroom hearing. There are no robes, court reporters or grandstanding speeches.

Dalton has received endorsements from several local judges and attorneys, while Danielson has declined both endorsements and contributions from the legal community. To accept such donations, he has argued, would create a conflict of interest.

This was put to the test last week when Bremerton attorney Ronald Templeton — who is also listed online as a Dalton supporter — sent Danielson a $250 contribution.

Danielson’s campaign, which is run by his wife Kris, promptly returned the check.

A letter from Templeton dated Oct. 10 and supplied by the Danielson campaign confirmed that the $250 was in fact a trap to see if Danielson was true to his word about accepting attorney’s contributions.

“I had serious questions about your honesty and integrity. Those doubts led me to send you a check to see if you would cash that check,” Templeton wrote. “That question was answered by the return of the check, so I have placed that in your ‘positive column.’ However, I continue to have doubts about you, stemming in part from some of your public statements, but more significantly from some of the claims in your Web site that are misleading, if not untruthful.”

Dalton said she knew about Templeton’s letter after the fact, and did not condone its contents.

“That’s not how I operate,” she said. “I am more of a straight shooter.”

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