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Dont vote (for Judges) 

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t was the billboard that did it for me. The man seems to be snarling. And his promise to the voters? Vote for me and I'll put criminals behind bars? Was he kidding?

John Groen's billboards were all over town, and why not? Candidate Groen has raised a bajillion dollars, most of which has come from ... No, not from the "No Coddling Criminals" bunch.

Groen's billboards led me to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission Web site -- which should be required reading for all voters -- and there it was. All the usual suspects. And big bucks, too. In fact, the Seattle Times reports it was the most expensive judge race in state history; $2.2 million was poured into the race from all kinds of interest groups.

Most of his money comes from developers, builders and big-time property owners. And these special interests aren't as worried about crime on the streets so much as they are concerned about their own pocket books being gouged by a concerned public. They don't like "anti-growth" laws on the books being upheld by "Commie Pinkos" such as the well-respected incumbent, Gerry Alexander.

Still even with the barrage of money thrown at him, Judge Alexander has managed not only to hold his own, but beat back Groen by taking upwards of 53 percent of the votes and keeping his seat.

Back to those billboards: They fairly reek with mendacity. The stench can be smelled from blocks away. Putting criminals behind bars? In the first place, the Supreme Court does precious little of that. Criminal cases are important, as Judge Alexander has pointed out, but the Supreme Court isn't a trial court. And even it if were, if the voters would take the time to examine the record, they would find that Groen has zero criminal experience.

No indeed. For quite a few years, he has made his money representing developers and builders and property owners.

Actually, it isn't really Judge Alexander whom these people oppose. It's the Washington Legislature, which keeps voting up those bills they don't like and our governors who keep on signing those bills -- many of which were hatched in the governor's office. Their strategy has shifted from taking over the state house to putting the fix in at the courthouse. If they can't elect the guys and gals who will carry water for them in the Legislature, then at least they might be able to buy a State Supreme Court that will overturn those laws that they don't like.

That's what this particular election was always about.

Not criminals behind bars.

I would have had a whole lot more respect for Groen had he just come out and told us why he was running. "A Vote for Groen is a Vote for Land Developers." What's wrong with that?

Well, plenty actually, if you want to be an impartial Supreme Court Justice.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & his overpriced campaign makes a good argument for abolishing our practice of electing Supreme Court judges. We don't elect federal judges, and the process has worked pretty well for more than 200 years. The president nominates our Supreme Court Justices (to life terms, no less) and the Senate ratifies those selections. Why not a version of the same process here in Washington state? The governor could nominate and the Senate confirm -- for a set term. Something on the order of eight years, perhaps? At least our justices would be properly vetted, and we wouldn't be held hostage to fundraising campaigns.

It's true that studies have shown that voting records of judges who have been nominated and confirmed don't decide all that differently from judges who are elected. But then perhaps that isn't the point. Governors must respond to the broadest of constituencies -- the voters throughout the state -- and accountability alone would ensure that candidates such as Groen, who are so obviously in the pocket of special interests, would not be considered by any governor. Or at least the odds would be reduced.

Executive nomination of judges does have its risks. As for spending political capital -- what if a governor has an overwhelming majority in the Senate and doesn't have to spend all that much to get the nominee he or she wants? Might we expect to see a party hack nominated? Could happen, I suppose. But it's not likely in our state, if for no other reason than our historical voting patterns coupled with our progressive tradition that argues for transparency.

And getting down to political realities: Really, would any governor nominate a candidate who wasn't acceptable to the voters in King County? Groen comes from Bellevue, as did Dino Rossi. But the strong Democratic voting majority in Seattle continues to serve as a balance to the Republican strength east of Lake Washington. Moreover, Republican candidates from the upscale suburbs across the lake typically support politics of moderation. Our more ideologically entrenched voters east of the mountains, given state demographics, frankly don't and wouldn't count for all that much in any selection process, except to the extent that a groundswell of moderate support emerged.

How many voters drew no connection between Groen and his stable of high-roller backers? My guess is many. It might be nice, in other words, to see this problem go away.

In any case, how do we voters know who might be a good justice? Which candidate has the better temperament? Who can craft solid opinions? Well, truth is, we don't know. More to the point, the current system doesn't allow us to readily identify the really bad candidates. For me, that's the bigger concern.
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