SEATTLE — Washington Supreme Court Justices Susan Owens and Steve Gonzalez easily retained their seats in Tuesday’s primary, while Seattle appeals lawyer Sheryl Gordon McCloud and former Justice Richard Sanders were leading a crowded field seeking to replace the retiring Tom Chambers.
Owens had 63 percent of the vote and was leading in every county against two challengers in early primary returns, good enough to secure her a third term.
Thanks to big leads in populous King, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston Counties, Gonzalez was taking 57 percent over little-known Seattle lawyer Bruce Danielson, who was carrying nearly all of the state’s rural counties despite mounting no real campaign and raising no money. Gonzalez is a former King County Superior Court judge who was appointed to the high court in January.
Candidates who win half the vote advance unopposed to the general election. If no candidate wins 50 percent, the top two advance.
That’s the case so far for the seat being vacated by Chambers, who is fighting cancer. McCloud was leading with nearly 32 percent of the vote; Sanders had 27.5 percent; King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer 25.6 percent; and former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg 15 percent.
If the results hold, Sanders and McCloud would face off in the general election in November. But Hilyer was performing the best in King County, which has the most outstanding votes, and he could move into the top two as those are counted.
Sanders, known for his libertarian leanings and for sometimes startling remarks, served 15 years on the Supreme Court. In 2010, he lost a re-election bid to experienced appellate lawyer Charlie Wiggins by just 13,000 votes out of nearly 2 million cast.
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.
Though he might have had the most name recognition in the race, he was also 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.” Prosecutors oppose him because he often sided with criminal defendants in their appeals.
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.
Hilyer raised far more money than anyone else in the campaign — nearly $204,000 to Sanders’ $125,000, McCloud’s $117,000 and Ladenburg’s $72,000. He has been a King County Superior Court judge for 12 years, and he served as its presiding judge from 2008-10, a period of intense budget cuts.
Hilyer pushed the court to adopt an electronic filing system that is expected to save millions of dollars in future paper-storage and personnel costs, and he oversaw the introduction of unpopular user fees that, he says, helped save the county’s family court program.
Ladenburg is one of just a few lawyers in the state who have handled death-penalty cases both as a public defender and a prosecutor. As Pierce County prosecutor, he helped create the nation’s first sex-offender notification law and the nation’s first “civil commitment” law for sex offenders who aren’t ready to return to society after serving their prison time.