EVERETT — Two longtime defense attorneys who dedicated their careers to fighting for historically marginalized people are running against each other for Snohomish County Superior Court judge.
The incumbent, Paul Thompson, 46, grew up in Bellevue. In his 20s, he worked as a bike mechanic and traveled overseas to compete as a racing cyclist.
“I had kind of single-A baseball talent, so you’re never really going to get very far,” he said. “Your own hubris takes you a long way, but at some point you have to face reality.”
Thompson attended Gonzaga Law School. As a lawyer, he spent his whole career as a public defender, in part because he liked to work with clients and to help them navigate an overwhelming legal system, he said. He served in Chelan County from 2004 to 2007, and in Snohomish County from 2007 to 2018, when he was appointed to the Superior Court bench by Gov. Jay Inslee.
His challenger, attorney Cassandra Lopez-Shaw, 52, had applied for three vacant seats on the Snohomish County bench, she said. The governor instead picked Jennifer Langbehn, Edirin Okoloko and Thompson. Lopez-Shaw filed to run against the latter because he was the most recent appointee.
“I’m from a military family, so you always go chain of command,” said Lopez-Shaw, whose husband, son and daughter have all served in the armed forces.
If elected, Lopez-Shaw would be the first Latina judge on the county’s Superior Court bench, she said.
“I feel that it’s time for the bench to look like me, and to reflect my background and my values,” she said.
The Latino population has seen massive growth in Snohomish County since 2000, and people of color make up much of Lopez-Shaw’s clientele, she said.
Yet even after practicing law for 16 years, she said, she is still often mistaken for an interpreter or a client.
Lopez-Shaw grew up in Los Angeles. In high school, she said, she overheard her white and Asian peers at cheerleading practice talking about SATs, and she did not know what that meant. So she asked a counselor why she wasn’t told about the tests, even though she wanted to go to college, she said.
“Mexicans don’t go to college,” her counselor replied, according to Lopez-Shaw.
“I was marginalized,” Lopez-Shaw said. “That’s why I went to law school. … ‘I’m going to get a degree, so people don’t question me, and I’m going to advise myself of my rights, so I’m not taken advantage of.’”
After graduating from Loyola Law School, Lopez-Shaw started out defending insurance companies. Quickly she found it wasn’t for her. She worked a few years as a partner at the Bothell law firm of Heidi Hunt, and briefly as a public defender in Bellingham, before being hired as a public defender in Everett.
She’s led her law firm of one since 2011. More than half of Lopez-Shaw’s private practice is related to criminal defense, she said.
As public defenders, both candidates represented clients who could not afford to hire an attorney. Thompson recalled one client from early in his career who insisted on his innocence. The defendant did not have the money to post what was considered, by the judge, to be low bail. The man sat behind bars long enough that he wanted to plead guilty, just to get out of jail.
“So being confronted, especially very early on, by something like that, that was quite difficult, and it also informed most of the rest of my career,” Thompson said. “The challenges people without means have, when faced with an allegation, sometimes can be absolutely insurmountable.”
In a county bar association poll, about 82 percent picked Thompson as the preferred choice. Lopez-Shaw said she was not surprised.
“Do you know why?” she said. “Do you see my office of one? … The two biggest law firms in this county are the prosecutor’s office and the public defenders’ office. Those two offices make up probably 95 percent of the bar poll. And so, not surprised. It’s unfair, it’s unjust and it’s not accurate.”
Thompson’s campaign has raised $43,340. He’s endorsed by the other 14 Superior Court judges. Of those, only one of his judicial colleagues was a career public defender.
Lopez-Shaw’s campaign has raised $11,125.
Below are excerpts from interviews with the candidates.
Question: If you were to try to put into words the role of a judge, how would you define that?
Lopez-Shaw: “The role of a judge is to listen, be prepared and make a decision with the law, not being influenced (because) the prosecutor can’t meet their case if they don’t rule in a certain way, or if you rule in the favor of the defendant, for example, their life will be — you have to look at it what does the law say to do. And I think the role of a judge is just being as open-minded and listening as you can. But you have to make the decision on a very, very bright line. There’s no wiggle room. The Constitution’s really finite, in my opinion. … “
Thompson: “As judges, we are supposed to be responsive to the people. It’s a customer service position, mixed with public service. … We should be trying to have things be more efficient. We should take the time to read everything, to actually listen to people, and I say this with the view that we have a huge number of unrepresented individuals coming through the courthouse. And every courthouse in Washington puts up artificial barriers to actually accessing the court. We make it difficult to find the correct courtroom, we make it difficult to file paperwork, and then scheduling hearings is a nightmare for so many people. So I do think those are all issues that we need to address.”
Question: What makes you more qualified than your opponent?
Lopez-Shaw: “Length of time (practicing law). The diversity of what I did in that time. The fact that I had to fight for it with a husband and two kids in the Marine Corps. And the fact that no one made it easy for me, ever. No teacher. No apartment complex that rented to us. Nobody made that easy for me. I had to get up every day and fight like a dog — like I do now, every day. … And that sort of grit and determination (is) heads above my opponent.”
Thompson: “When I was appointed, there was a wide range of candidates. Ultimately I went through the vetting process, and I was appointed by the governor. … Also, I have been endorsed by a wide range of organizations at this point. Most of these organizations require not just a questionnaire, but an in-person interview. If you look at all of the minority bar associations, as well as the bar poll that was conducted, I think the local attorneys agree that there is a clear choice.”
The position pays an annual salary of $190,985.
Election Day is Nov. 5.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; email@example.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.