The State Supreme Court unanimously decided in a written opinion published Thursday that newly elected Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller is not required to reside in Thurston County in order to be eligible for the judgeship.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue in October, after it had agreed to review a lower court’s decision that Schaller was an eligible candidate for the office. The appeal of the lower court’s decision was brought by two of Schaller’s opponents in the August primary and by a local attorney.
The group contested Schaller’s eligibility on the grounds that under state law, candidates for elected office are required to live in the county in which they wish to serve. Schaller is a Pierce County resident.
But the Supreme Court agreed with a Kitsap County Superior Court judge’s earlier ruling that the state constitution has no residency requirement for Superior Court judge candidates, and in effect, the constitution trumps state law. The Supreme Court’s opinion states that “a person is eligible for the office of superior court judge if he or she has been admitted to practice before the courts of record in this state.”
In the November general election, Schaller, who currently serves as a Thurston County Court Commissioner, ran against Assistant Attorney General Jim Johnson. The Supreme Court had yet to rule when the general election took place, and Schaller won handily, with 66.5 percent of the vote.
Johnson emailed a written statement to The Olympian on Thursday after the Supreme Court published its unanimous opinion.
“On Nov. 6, the people of Thurston County overwhelmingly chose Christine Schaller to be their judge,” Johnson wrote. “Today the Supreme Court said that Washington law permitted them that choice. I am grateful the court ruled on the merits of the case. The people of Thurston County deserve to have a judge of their choosing, and the court’s ruling affirms that important principle. I congratulate soon-to-be Judge Schaller on her election, and the people of Thurston County on their choice.”Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 firstname.lastname@example.org