Candidate Q&A: San Juan County Superior Court Judge

This week, The Journal and SanJuanJournal.com begin their series of Q&As with candidates in the Aug. 19 primary election. The series begins here with the candidates for San Juan County Superior Court judge. The term is four years; the salary is $146,832, half of which is paid by the state, half by the county. The election of judge will be decided in the primary.

Randall K. Gaylord
1. Education and background: I was born fourth in a family of 10 children. My Dad was an apple grower, and Mom ran the house, the school board and later became a minister.

I married Marny, a public school teacher, 27 years ago. Together we raised two children who are now in college. I run long distances for fun, and I am committed to community service.

I attended Colgate; graduated from Utah State (BS in Environmental Studies and Economics) and University of Utah Law School; served as law clerk to Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham; and practiced law with private firms in Spokane and Eastsound for nine years.

I have been a lawyer for 23 years; elected San Juan County prosecutor four times; often teach ethics to other lawyers; elected president of statewide prosecutors’ association (2007); and am rated exceptionally well qualified by Washington Women Lawyers and three other attorney groups.

2. Should San Juan join a growing number of Washington counties relying on a .01 percent tax on retail sales to help finance or expand local mental health services? Please explain.

Yes. I support improving mental health and alcohol and drug services in our county. Our current mental health system reacts when a person is in crisis instead of searching for ways of keeping the community healthy. Treating mental health and substance abuse will reduce crime and the need for new jails and prisons.

Mental health and drug and alcohol problems can lead to serious crimes, tear families apart, and hurt children. Many of these people will end up in court, and as judge I want to ensure that people are safe and that services are provided in conjunction with any punishment.

The county that collects this sales tax must have a court docket for hearing cases involving child abuse and neglect due to mental health or substance abuse. I will ensure that our court has such a docket.

I recognize the need to be cautious about spending, so I invite the public to participate with the Task Force that will determine the services that will best fit our county.

3. How do the managerial skills of a judge affect the operations of a court?

As county prosecutor, I have managed the largest office in the county for the past 14 years — experience that translates directly to the managerial requirements of the judge position.

Justice delayed is justice denied. A judge must be prompt in making decisions. The effective judge is an inquisitive decision-maker who also directs the clerk, bailiff, parties, attorneys and jurors. Tensions can often run high in the courtroom — the judge must be a leader who sets out clearly what he expects, and then remains flexible enough to provide a firm, friendly, and comfortable decorum.

Above all, a judge must ensure that people feel safe in the courtroom and that people have had their say while cases move along appropriately.

Off the bench, the judge will budget for the Superior Court, advocate for court improvements, and seek out grants. As I have done as county prosecutor, I will seek out leadership roles in statewide associations, teach others, and bring to the court the best ideas of my peers.

4. What changes, if any, would you like to see in the way Superior Court and Juvenile Court are administered?

At least twice a year, the court should convene on Lopez and Orcas islands. If the Supreme Court can travel from Olympia several times a year, then our Superior Court could easily meet on another island. Any inconvenience to court staff will be more than made up by the knowledge and insight into the court that citizens will gain.

Due to safety concerns, these hearings would involve motions or arguments, not jury trials or criminal proceedings.

In Juvenile Court, truancy proceedings from Lopez and Orcas are rarely heard due to the inconvenience for school officials and students. Video-conferencing will enable students and school officials to appear via a school conference room.

5. Which U.S. Supreme Court justice most closely reflects your view of how local, state or federal law should be interpreted, and why? 

The first woman justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, most closely reflects my view of the relationship between state and federal governments. Justice O’Connor was a moderate who adhered to the rule of law to ensure that social change comes from the legislature, not from the courts.

I admire O’Connor’s commitment to a careful analysis of facts and law over any particular ideology. Justice O’Connor showed great courage and independence when she departed with the conservative members of the court on abortion rights, partisan gerrymandering, and the role of judge and jury in criminal sentencing.

6. What are the local court system’s most pressing challenges?

A court system must be fair and appear fair. This requires every judge to identify conflicts of interest and disqualify themselves from such cases. In a small rural county, this presents a special challenge. A system of judge trades can be worked out with judges in nearby counties who will sit on San Juan County cases when necessary.

Another challenge for a judge is to provide leadership in a small community while remaining impartial. There may be a perception that a judge’s collegiality off the bench translates to biased decisions on the bench. But decisions should be based upon the facts and the law, not friendships. This is a challenge I have faced and successfully resolved many times during my 14 years as county prosecutor.

Many people need a lawyer but can’t afford one. The judge needs to be a leader in ensuring there is access to justice for all.

7. What are the top two skills or personal attributes that make you the best candidate for the job? 

Experience and integrity. These traits define the values I bring to the bench and make me the best candidate.

Experience covers all life experience, not just time in the courtroom. Anyone who has watched judges knows they don’t check their values at the door. My experience in private practice and as public prosecutor matches well with the felony, juvenile, property disputes, land use and divorce cases that come to the court. I have a proven record of being inquisitive, eager to learn, compassionate, creative, and having a sense of humor. My experience shows I apply common sense to difficult circumstances and that I remain calm when facing tense situations.

Integrity means more than simply being honest and truthful. As county prosecutor, I have made many tough decisions for the protection of the community that have stood the test of time.

John O. Linde
1. Education and background: University of Washington, B.A., Business Administration; Willamette University College of Law, J.D., Washington Judicial College.

In private practice in San Juan County, 1972 through Dec. 31, 2007; District Court judge, 1977 to 1998; court commissioner, appointed by Judges Hancock and Churchill; Superior Court judge pro tem, 2007; Superior Court judge appointed by Gov. Gregoire, since Jan. 1, 2008.

2. Should San Juan join a growing number of Washington counties relying on a .01 percent tax on retail sales to help finance or expand local mental health services? Please explain.

I have not talked with county Public Health staff about their position regarding the tax authorized by RCW 82.14.460. That being said, I am quite sure the need for funds always exceeds the available resources.

The tax must be authorized by the County Council. Once authorized, the money must be used for new or expanded chemical dependency or mental health programs. The law requires that the tax should fund what is referred to as a “therapeutic” court as a component of dependency proceedings in Superior Court.

This requires that the court establish a special calendar or docket for the intense supervision and oversight of treatment provided to parents and families that have substance abuse problems AND who are involved in a dependency proceeding. The goal is to reduce (1) child abuse and neglect, (2) out of home placement of children (foster care), (3) termination of parental rights, and (4) substance abuse and mental health symptoms in parents and their children.

We have so few dependency proceedings in San Juan County (and that is a good thing), I do not believe we need a therapeutic court at this time.

3. How do the managerial skills of a judge affect the operations of a court?

I graduated in Business Administration and managed my law practice for 35 years. I believe that I have strong managerial skills. When I was the District Court judge, I worked with the District Court clerk and together we managed the court’s operations from its inception through the most dramatic growth the county has seen.

That having been said, there is a tremendous amount that needs to be done by Superior Court, but no staff to do it. At the present time, management means do it yourself or prevail on the County Clerk’s office to help.

The good news is that the District Court judge and staff, together with the county clerk and her staff, work with Superior Court in coordinating the operation of our county’s two courts. There is excellent cooperation and somehow the work gets done.

I am fortunate that our Juvenile Court administrator (Tom Kearney) requires very little supervision. He is a veteran of years in his position and is assisted by a capable staff that he manages.

4. What changes, if any, would you like to see in the way Superior Court and Juvenile Court are administered?

The Superior Court needs staff to do the job right. At the present time, the judge administers the court which is separate from the office of the County Clerk. We have no staff for the judge to manage and are fortunate to have a county clerk (Joan White) and her staff who have been willing to help with everything that a court administrator does in every other county.

I would like to see one staff person added to the office of the Superior Court. That person would need to do the multitude of tasks required to maintain the smooth operation of the court. The judge alone cannot do it all and what is needed is beyond the scope of what the county clerk is elected to do.

As for the Juvenile Court, it is currently administered by Tom Kearney who works under the judge, but in very close collaboration with the judge. The way the system works now in San Juan County is the way it should work in the other 38 counties. I see no need for change now or in the foreseeable future.

5. Which U.S. Supreme Court justice most closely reflects your view of how local, state or federal law should be interpreted, and why?

Chief Justice John Roberts is known for judicial minimalism. He pushes the other justices toward narrow decisions that are more likely to command unanimous support. To do this he, in presiding over the court’s conferences, allows discussion to go on longer than prior chief justices, thus drawing out the views of all of his colleagues.

Like former Justice O’Connor, he often encourages decisions on procedural grounds returning cases to the lower courts for further review. This approach often avoids the sort of controversy that can split the court and divide the country.

Roberts has said, “I think the framers (of the Constitution), when they used broad language like ‘liberty,’ like ‘due process,’ like ‘unreasonable’ with respect to searches and seizures, they were crafting a document that they intended to apply in a meaningful way down the ages.” This differs markedly from the originalists on the court who apply a more strict interpretation of the language of the Constitution and recognizes change in American life.

Justice Roberts is young, energetic and is recognized as a hard worker. He argued cases before the Supreme Court before taking the bench. He avoided the political controversies of the Clinton years and refused to become a “talking head” for the media. He is not an “activist judge.”

6. What are the local court system’s most pressing challenges?

The primary challenge facing courts everywhere is what is referred to as “access to justice.” The goal is to remove barriers that limit or restrict an individual’s ability to use the system.

Those barriers are often financial. We have a public defender for those charged with crimes who are indigent but many more are unable to afford the cost of legal services despite being well above the poverty line. And civil litigation is not covered by court-appointed lawyers.

In San Juan County, we have a court facilitator who works with individuals to complete the forms necessary to process their own divorces. We have volunteer attorneys who participate in family law night, again to help those who lack the resources to retain independent counsel. But the need is often greater than can be met.

A second challenge is a byproduct of the diversity we now enjoy in San Juan County. For those for whom English is a second language, we require interpreter services. The court and clerk are implementing a plan to help assure the availability of qualified interpreter services, but the challenge remains.

7. What are the top two skills or personal attributes that make you the best candidate for the job?

1. I care about all those who come before me, whether juvenile or adult, plaintiff or defendant, victim or perpetrator.

2. I work hard and love what I am doing.

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