When a judge is elected to Pierce County District Court, he or she can count on a long career handling all kinds of business, both banal and bizarre, from traffic tickets to legal name changes, from misdemeanor offenses to small claims.
True, judges must be re-elected every four years for a job that pays around $164,000, but they’re almost always unopposed. The two judges retiring in 2018 have served more than 35 years combined.
Whenever a vacancy arises, then, voters should choose well, as if filling a lifetime appointment. Ideally, judges will be experienced in many aspects of the justice system, will reflect the diversity of the community they serve and won’t be vulnerable to undue influence.
That’s why we’re endorsing Lizanne Padula of Tacoma and Karl Williams of University Place to join the eight-member bench.
For Position 3, Padula, a 52-year-old attorney in private practice, is up against Tim Lewis, 42, who’s worked in the Pierce County prosecutor’s office 15 years.
For Position 6, Williams, a 57-year-old civil and criminal lawyer and long-serving judge pro tem (translation: a substitute judge), faces John Sheeran, 54, a veteran of 22 years in the prosecutor’s office, where he’s second-in-charge in the criminal division.
Working as a deputy prosecuting attorney is an honorable way to protect the public. Sheeran and Lewis have firm command of the rules of evidence, and a keen knowledge of the therapeutic courts that are sprouting up — such as felony courts for drug users and broken families — with an eye toward expanding them to District Court.
Sheeran, a UP resident, helped develop Pierce County’s mental health court. Lewis, who lives in Gig Harbor, has moonlighted as a judge pro tem in local communities for 10 years. They’re both accomplished legal professionals.
But employment in this particular prosecutor’s office comes with baggage — especially when the boss, Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, is known for wanting to load local courts with his proteges to expand his sphere of influence.
Four of the six judges who are unopposed on the ballot this year came to District Court by way of the prosecutor’s office. Shaking up the mix would be healthy.
Fortunately, Padula and Williams make strong cases on their own merits. Both cite their “exceptionally well qualified” ratings from lawyer groups including the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association. (Neither Sheeran nor Lewis sought the ratings.)
The resume with the greatest breadth belongs to Padula. She’s worked as a deputy prosecutor on the Olympic Peninsula, a pro-tem judge and now as a civil litigator based in Bellevue; she says she’s even served as a police officer.
Being part of a family with addiction struggles makes Padula passionate about the need to intercept and help drug users in District Court, where they often show up before moving on to felony offenses. She points to her work obtaining “hundreds” of protection orders for abused women and says courts must “move mountains” to assist them. “They might not come back a second time,” she told us.
Padula, who’s lived in Pierce County just a year, has had a nomadic career, but she’s no stranger to the region.
Williams boasts deep local roots; he calls UP his lifetime hometown. His never-quit spirit is exemplified by five unsuccessful runs for judge since 1999. He’s paid his dues during 22 years as a fill-in judge for Pierce County, Fife, Puyallup and Ruston.
Concern for the rights of low-income defendants is a driving force for Williams. Electronic home monitoring as an alternative to jail should not be contingent on ability to pay, he told us, adding that he’s determined to make changes if elected.
It’s also worth noting that Williams, who is African-American, would be the only person of color on a bench that is regrettably homogenous.
We believe Lizanne Padula and Karl Williams would distinguish themselves as fair and thoughtful District Court judges, now and for years to come.
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