By Gene Johnson Associated Press
SEATTLE — Former Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders has a chance to get his old job back.
As more votes were counted Monday, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer conceded that he wasn’t going to be able to overtake Sanders’ second-place finish in last week’s primary.
That means Sanders will face Seattle appeals lawyer Sheryl Gordon McCloud in the November general election for the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Tom Chambers, while Hilyer will have to find something else to do. He was up for re-election this year, but opted to run for the high court instead.
“It has been a great honor and privilege to be a Superior Court judge these past twelve years,” he said in an emailed statement Monday evening. “I am proud of the campaign we ran and am grateful to all of my supporters, and I respect the choices made by the voters. I’m taking some time to rest and reflect on my next challenge.”
McCloud had collected 29.1 percent of the vote, followed by 28.4 percent for Sanders and 27.3 percent for Hilyer. Former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg came in last with 15.2 percent.
Sanders served 15 years on the court before losing a re-election bid in 2010 to experienced appellate lawyer Charlie Wiggins by just 13,000 votes out of nearly 2 million cast. During his tenure, Sanders developed a reputation as a libertarian who often sided with defendants in criminal cases, something that earned him the ire of prosecutors around the state. He also was known for occasionally making intemperate remarks.
He once yelled “tyrant!” at then-U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey at a black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C., and shortly before the 2010 election, he drew criticism for questioning the notion that systemic bias is part of the reason certain minority groups are overrepresented in the prison population.
Despite his time on the court, he was the lowest rated by several organizations that evaluate judicial candidates. The King County Bar Association called him “well qualified” and all of his opponents “exceptionally well qualified.”
“I’m glad there’s a candidate for liberty in the final round,” Sanders said Monday night. “I have always tried to respect and defend the rights of Washingtonians from all walks of life.”
He called McCloud “a good lawyer and an honorable person,” but said he’d point out to voters that he’s the only candidate with judicial experience: “I have a record, and I’m proud of my record.”
McCloud has devoted most of her career to helping criminal defendants appeal their convictions. She recently won an 8-1 decision overturning the conviction of Darold Stenson, who had been sentenced to death for the killings of his wife and business partner in 1993. The court agreed that prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to Stenson and he was granted a new trial.
She said she is not only devoted to constitutional rights, but has the better temperament to be a justice, and that she’s the candidate most likely to persuade other justices to join her views — an allusion to Sanders’ frequent dissents in high court opinions. She also pointed to her work with the NAACP and the King County Prosecutor’s Office on clemency petitions; her work defending a California law that required employers to grant leave to pregnant women; and her work challenging an Idaho anti-sodomy statute in federal court.
While he was on the court, Sanders voted to uphold Washington’s prohibition on gay marriage. A gay marriage law has since passed in Washington, and will be voted upon in a referendum in November.
“I’m grateful to have been the winner out of the primary, and I think we’ve got a fair fight on my hands,” McCloud said. “My campaign has been about my track record of protecting constitutional rights and individual rights.
Hilyer raised far more money than anyone else in the campaign — $205,000 to Sanders’ $125,000, McCloud’s $118,000 and Ladenburg’s $74,000.