For two judicial seats with the Snohomish County Superior Court, Gov. Jay Inslee made appointments following retirements last year, but voters get the last say in who completes the final year for those terms on the bench.
Superior Court, Position 7: Incumbent Judge Edirin Okoloko is challenged by Anna Alexander. Both Okoloko and Alexander offer stories as immigrants to America who earned success through hard work and intelligence.
Okoloko was appointed by Inslee last September following the retirement of Judge George Bowden. Okoloko grew up in Nigeria and attended college there, earning a bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Benin. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1998. A cum laud graduate of Seattle University’s Law School, Okoloko then served as law clerk for Snohomish County Judge Michael Downs from 2004-05.
Prior to his appointment to the bench, Okoloko worked as a deputy prosecutor for Snohomish County for 13 years, handling cases involving homicide, sexual abuse, child abuse and elder abuse, among others. He also served on the county team that investigated law enforcement officers’ use of force.
Alexander has served as a pro-tem judge in Superior, District and municipal courts, but her career primarily has been as a public defender and in civil and family law cases. She also has served as a Rule 9 prosecutor, regarding the issuance of warrants and summons. She has served as president of the Washington Women Lawyers for the county and is a legal education instructor.
Alexander was born in Moldova in Eastern Europe, then a Soviet state. She and her family fled religious persecution there and immigrated to the U.S. Graduating at 16 from Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Alexander attended the University of Washington, earning bachelor’s and juris doctor law degrees there.
Regarding ratings and endorsements, Okoloko was ranked as the top choice of about 69 percent of respondents in a poll of attorneys with the Snohomish County Bar. He’s rated as exceptionally well-qualified or well-qualified by six bar organizations as well as all judges on the county Superior Court and others with the District and municipal courts.
Alexander has endorsements from several judges at the state, county and municipal levels as well as from local elected officials and state lawmakers.
In a recent profile of both candidates by The Herald’s Caleb Hutton, both were asked about their frustrations with the legal system, offering insight into their experiences. Alexander saw the cost of civil litigation as a major problem, while Okoloko said he was frustrated by a lack of resources to responsibly address the crush of cases that courts are handling, specifically those involving mental health, chemical dependency and addiction.
Alexander is not incorrect regarding her concerns for those needing justice through civil litigation, but Okoloko appears more focused on concerns that are most pressing for the county and the need for resources to address them.
Okoloko’s background in prosecution has shown attention to the concerns of victims but also fairness toward defendants. Backed by the number of his endorsements and other support from those who have worked with him, Okoloko warrants the voters’ stamp of approval on the governor’s appointment.
Superior Court, Position 14: Incumbent Judge Paul W. Thompson is challenged by Cassandra Lopez-Shaw.
Both come from backgrounds where each primarily served as public defenders.
Thompson was appointed by the governor in December following the retirement of Judge Ellen Fair. Thompson grew up in Bellevue and graduated with a juris doctor law degree from Gonzaga University’s School of Law. He worked as a public defender in Eastern Washington and Snohomish County for 14 years before his appointment to the Superior Court bench.
Lopez-Shaw grew up in Los Angeles, earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of Washington and graduated from Loyola Law School. She has 16 years of experience as a trial attorney for private firms, public organizations, a public defender and serving in civil, family and criminal courts at state, federal and the appellate court level.
Regarding ratings and endorsements, Lopez-Shaw is rated as exceptionally well-qualified by the Veterans Bar Association and Loren Miller Bar Association. The Washington Women Lawyers has recognized her for her work on behalf of victims of violent crime.
Thompson was rated as the top choice of 82 percent of attorneys polled by the Snohomish County Bar Association, and is rated as exceptionally well-qualified or well-qualified by seven attorneys’ organizations. Like, Okoloko, he is endorsed by all judges on the county Superior Court, as well as other state, district and municipal court judges and elected state, federal and local officials.
In a recent profile of the candidates by The Herald, both spoke to the experiences and background that would serve them as a judge.
A Latina, Lopez-Shaw said she had to overcome prejudice and marginalization that might have kept her out of law school if she hadn’t pressed forward. Even now, she said, some in court have assumed she’s an interpreter and not an attorney. If elected, she would be the county Superior Court’s first Latina judge.
Thompson pointed to his public defense work, recalling one defendant who, despite his insistence of innocence, faced bail he couldn’t afford and told told Thompson he’d rather plead guilty. Thompson said he sees other barriers to justice in Washington courts that need to be addressed, including an underfunded mental health system, reforms to the bail system and the costs of civil litigation.
During his relatively brief tenure on the bench, Thompson has earned the trust and support of fellow judges, attorneys and others in the court system and law enforcement. His years as a public defender have informed his work as a judge. Thompson, like Okoloko, has proved himself deserving of the governor’s appointment and should be retained by the voters.