Both candidates are qualified, well spoken and had a variety of support letters from citizens.
Ultimately, we chose Steve Brandli over Carolyn Jewett.
On Nov. 6, a new San Juan County District Court judge will be elected for the first time in two decades. The position holds a four-year term and received a $164,313 salary in 2018. District courts in Washington state have jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors as well as preliminary hearings on felony cases. District courts also cover civil suits up to $100,000; small claim suits up to $5,000; and traffic and nontraffic infractions.
Brandli, who owns a private practice in Friday Harbor, has 12 years of experience practicing law in San Juan County. He is the former deputy prosecutor for SJC district court, has run a private practice that’s handled civil and criminal cases, spent two years as a public defender and served as a district and superior court judge pro tem (meaning temporary). Many of his private practice clients have written letters on behalf of Brandli, highlighting his compassion and professionalism.
Some citizens have voiced concerns that he will have a conflict of interest by keeping his law business running, although legally, there is nothing wrong with his doing so.
We asked Brandli about this, and the short answer is: his district court duties would be his priority, he will no longer take litigation cases and he intends to have a “limited, part-time” practice that only handles transactional (purchases and sales, leases and rentals, etc.) and mediation and arbitration.
He told us: “Importantly, this work does not involve court. I will not appear in superior or district court as an attorney … My practice will be much smaller, and much different, than it currently is.”
We feel that Jewett, who has been the district court prosecutor for the past three years, has a greater chance for a conflict of interest. If Jewett is the judge before a case she’s done work on as a prosecutor, she will be recused and the county will have to hire a pro-tem judge.
We like Jewett’s responses to the community’s questions at local forums, and she was endorsed by the San Juan County branch of Our Revolution and the Orcas Women’s Coalition. However, we feel Brandli’s diverse work and years of experience as an attorney in this county make him a more desirable candidate.