Three vie for King County District Court judgeship
July 22, 2014
By Ari Cetron
A trio of part-time judges is competing to fill a King County District Court open seat.
Judge Linda Jacke has announced her retirement in the Northeast Division, which serves a large swath of the Eastside from Lake Washington in the west to the county line in the east, and from Newcastle and areas south of North Bend in the south to the county line in the north. The district also includes part of Bothell in Snohomish County.
Jacke’s courtroom is in Redmond, though there is no guarantee the new judge would sit there.
All three running for the seat are pro-tem judges — they act as fill-in judges when a regular judge is away. The top two vote getters in the August primary will move on to the General Election ballot in November.
Court rules prohibit judges from speaking about how they might be inclined to rule in specific sorts of cases, but each of the three would bring a different skill set to the bench.
King County District Court handles a wide variety of cases. It holds court in 10 locations in the county: Auburn, Bellevue, Burien, Issaquah, King County Courthouse (Seattle), King County Jail (Seattle-jail calendars only), Redmond, Maleng Regional Justice Center (Kent), Shoreline and Vashon Island (one day per month).
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Rick Leo, 44, of Snoqualmie, is married and has one child.
Leo started his career as a public defender before moving to the prosecutor’s office. He’s also been working part time as a pro-tem judge.
“I honestly believe that I can give more to the community as a judge than as an attorney,” he said.
Leo noted that with his experience as a defense and prosecuting attorney, along with his pro-tem judging, he’s the only candidate who has sat in every spot in the courtroom.
Leo said that when he presides, he likes to be sure everyone has a chance to have his or her side heard.
“What I think is most important is to be fair to the process,” he said.
He said that he likes to spend time explaining his reasoning for his decisions. Leo said he finds it helps people better understand why a case may not have gone their way, so they can still feel like they were heard and got a fair trial.
He also said he believes his temperament is well-suited to running a courtroom. He thinks he can put people at ease while keeping control of the court.
Leo would like to remain involved in the community, while still maintaining his judicial impartiality. He gave an example of judges who lend their expertise to running youth courts, where teens try other teens, under the guidance of adults in the legal system. He might want to help start more programs like that if he is elected.
Leo said he’d like to improve technology, such as filing more documents electronically, which could help make the process run more efficiently.
He would also like to find a way to develop a series of videos covering common topics, and present them in dozens of languages. That can help people, particularly those who are not native English speakers, understand how to fill out certain forms or complete other tasks. He notes that if the court could find a translator to donate time to produce the video once, the system could continue to use it to the benefit of all, and do so rather inexpensively.
“I think that’s a way to use technology to make things more efficient,” he said.
Marcus Naylor, 51, of Sammamish, a pro-tem judge for four years, is married and has two children.
He has spent his legal career in the public defender’s office and supervises a team of seven attorneys in Seattle Municipal Court.
He said the majority of the work he has done is in criminal cases, but that he has had an opportunity to defend clients in most courts in the county, such as district, superior and juvenile, giving him a breadth of experience.
He said he wants to be a judge so he can continue his work in public service, a value instilled in him by his parents.
He said he would also like to reach out to underserved communities to better serve them.
“I want access to justice for all people, including minorities and the poor,” Naylor said.
He also would like to find ways to improve access for non-English speakers. He noted the county is home to speakers of hundreds of different languages, but many forms are only offered in a few. Naylor said he’d like to expand the offerings, and have a website dedicated to giving people that information.
He’d also like to help find ways to improve access to free and low-cost legal representation.
Naylor noted his management experience, and said that will help him carry out administrative duties outside the courtroom for which a judge is responsible. He said he’d like to help make the court move more efficiently and reduce the court calendar.
“You want a meaningful experience, and at the same time be efficient,” he said.
One way to do that would be to create an expectation that attorneys be prepared, and sometimes refuse to grant a continuance if they are not.
He’d also like to work with the county to find more funding to increase the number of staff, such as bailiffs and court clerks, to help process some of the day-to-day paperwork more quickly.
Even without extra money, he thinks there might be better ways to use what the judiciary already has.
“Courts are underfunded, but they also need to allocate resources better,” he said.
Naylor said he would bring an unflagging work ethic to the bench if elected.
“No one will work harder than me,” he said.
Lisa O’Toole, 52, of Newcastle, a pro-tem judge for the past six years, is married and has two children.
She noted she is the only candidate to have practiced civil and criminal law having been both a criminal prosecutor and a private civil attorney.
O’Toole said although she’s been serving as a pro-tem judge for several years, for the past three, it has been her sole occupation.
O’Toole said she tries to keep in mind that when people come to her courtroom, they want to be understood.
“It’s not just a case or a number that’s coming before us. It’s an individual,” she said.
If elected, she said she would like to be visible in the community outside of the courtroom. She’d want to work with leaders in communities that might not always have a positive experience with the justice system to help reach out to members of those communities in an effort to increase their participation.
She noted that sometimes at a criminal trial those on trial — entitled to a jury of their peers — might face a jury that doesn’t look much like they do or have similar life experiences.
She said if she can reach out to those communities and find ways to increase their response rate when called for jury duty, it will help advance the credibility of the court in general.
“It could make a positive impact on people’s view of our legal system,” O’Toole said.
She also thinks it would benefit her to be able to follow a case from beginning to end, allowing her to better serve justice.
“You will not only have the background, but you get to know that defendant,” she said.
O’Toole noted that judges, besides running a courtroom, also run the Judicial Branch of government, and with that comes some administrative responsibilities. She said she’d like to be able to see some changes to the District Court system.
She lamented that there are unrepresented defendants in civil cases.
In a criminal case, defendants have a right to legal representation if they can’t afford it on their own. In a civil case, defendants have no such right. O’Toole said if budgets weren’t an issue, she love to see a way to find legal representation for people in those cases, but she realizes it’s not likely to happen.