Elections

Challengers attack Sanders' impartiality in Supreme Court race

In pursuit of his third term as a State Supreme Court justice, incumbent Richard Sanders has been bombarded with criticism from all sides.

His two opponents, Charlie Wiggins and Bryan Chushcoff, question Sanders' ability to put his beliefs aside in making decisions and his desire to work with other judges to find a common solution, among other things.

"I think that's ridiculous," Sanders said about claims that he makes decisions more on beliefs than on the law. "I go much further reading the letter of the law than most of my colleagues on the Supreme Court."

Sanders said he is the champion of the rights of the individual. He believes the challengers for his seat don't do enough diligence in questioning policy and simply side with the government.

"I think there must be a level playing field between large entities and individuals," he said. "I have a track record of protecting their rights. It's not my job to simply defer to the government without even considering the merits of the case."

That very same philosophy has put the incumbent under fire from his challengers.

Wiggins, a Bainbridge Island appellate attorney, said he will bring a more open-minded approach and an increased desire to work with other judges to build consensus. A 5-4 split decision on an issue doesn't yield a conclusive result, he said, and the court needs to come together and give a clear direction.

"Judges should work hard to form the broadest possible consensus to work together and go forward," he said.

Wiggins cites his experience in the appellate court and on a number of judicial committees as ways he's learned to cooperate with other judges to present united, and clear decisions.

Wiggins threw his hat into the race early, and he appeared to be the only challenger until Chushcoff, a Pierce County Superior Court judge, registered on the final day of the filing period. Chushcoff's entrance increases the importance of the Aug. 17 primary, as only two candidates can advance.

Chushcoff jumped into the race believing he was more qualified to connect with people than the other two candidates.

"I deal with real people in my court room every day," he said. "The decisions I make have a real impact on flesh and blood people."

Chushcoff also saw the importance in building consensus among judges. Instead of settling for the 5-4 votes quickly becoming the norm on the court, Chushcoff believes in using a similar formula employed with juries. In that case, 12 individuals with differing views are brought together to field a common decision. Those disparate points of view should be used to flush out the correct decision, not take individual stands on a case, he said.

"We ask the Supreme Court to give us guidance to what the law is, but it doesn't give us a lot of guidance if there's no consensus."

Each candidate claims he is the best fit to deal with the problems of the people. All of them served as lawyers before spending time on the bench. Wiggins said too much time on the bench away from clients can isolate judges from individuals. He felt it takes real effort to continue reaching out to the people affected by the decisions, something he has, and will continue to do.

"I think there's real danger that a judge gets out of touch," he said. "One way a judge can keep in touch is to reach out. I've done that in this campaign. I want to understand peoples' concerns and be engaged."

Candidate bios

Bryan Chushcoff

Experience: Chushcoff is the presiding judge of the Pierce County Superior Court. He has 14 years of experience on the bench and spent 19 years as a general practice attorney. "I've handled almost every kind of legal battle you can imagine. I have experience with real people and their problems. The Supreme Court needs that kind of practical, hands-on experience."

Why are you running?

"People are worried about activist judges. They think the judges let personal or political views get in the way of their judgments. I've learned to put personal views aside and follow the law and the facts."

What skills, talents, or experience do you bring that your opponents don't?

"On the Superior Court I'm trying to resolve ambiguous questions about the law, tell trial judges and lawyers what the law is."

Richard Sanders

Experience: Sanders has been on the Supreme Court since 1995, achieving re-election victories in 1998 and 2004. He has been the most active justice on the state court, writing more opinions than any of his colleagues. He also worked as a lawyer for more than 25 years before joining the bench.

Why are you running?

"It's the job of the Supreme Court, and me in part, to protect and maintain individual rights, and I think that job isn't finished. I think I bring a unique perception and voice to the court to champion individual liberty."

What skills, talents, or experience do you bring that your opponents don't?

"I'm willing to protect the rights of every single individual even when they come into trouble with the government. I think my challengers are not impartial, they are pro government."

Charlie Wiggins

Experience: Wiggins has served as both a lawyer and judge in the appellate courts. He worked in Superior Court on a pro-tem basis. "When I was on the Court of Appeals I thought it was great, and then I was advocating for justice for all the people of the state. I always felt like I was working for the right thing with clients, but there's a grander sense of that on the bench."

Why are you running?

"I grew up in the army, and I have always been taught public service is an important part of life. I've had a great career and I love what I do, and I'd like to go at it full-time as a public servant. To me, that's a logical next step."

What unique skills, talents, or experience do you bring that your opponents don't?

"A thing I would bring to the court is a spirit of collegiality and effort to work together toward a common outcome. Sanders is a dissenter. I think that speaks to a judge who is unable to put his belie

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