With two judges planning to retire in January, four Thurston County residents are vying for open seats on Thurston County Superior Court.
Candidates Chris Lanese and Laura Murphy are running for Position 1, the seat that will be vacated by Judge Chris Wickham. Jim Foley and John Skinder are competing for Position 7, to be vacated by Judge Gary Tabor.
Lanese, 34, earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and his law degree from Harvard. He began his career in private practice in Seattle and is a managing assistant attorney general for the state Office of the Attorney General.
Murphy, 55, earned her bachelor’s degree from Saint Martin’s University and her law degree from Seattle University. She previously worked for the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office, and practices criminal and civil law in a private practice. For the past year, she has served as a judge pro tempore in Thurston County Superior Court and spent the previous decade as a commissioner pro tempore in Thurston County District Court. She is the only candidate in either race to have served in a judicial capacity for Superior Court.
In the Position 7 race, Foley, 61, earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University and his law degree from the University of Puget Sound. He spent a year working as a public defender in Pacific County and has spent the remainder of his 25-year career in private practice in Thurston County.
Skinder, 46, earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary and his law degree from Seattle University. For three years, he worked for the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office and has spent the past 16 years with the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office.
Candidates in both races have built their campaigns around a desire to increase access to Thurston County’s therapeutic courts. These courts are a growing trend throughout the United States and are already being used in Thurston County’s court system in the form of Drug Court, Veterans Court, DUI Court and Mental Health Court.
Murphy said she would like to see the county add a domestic violence court. She said it’s important to recognize the stress that domestic violence proceedings place on a family, and believes a domestic violence court could better pull people out of the cycle of abuse and reduce recidivism.
Murphy provided King County’s Domestic Violence Court, which is connected to the county’s district court, as a model.
“I think that would be a very good plan for Thurston County,” she said.
Lanese said he believes Thurston County has done a good job of adopting alternative courts, but would like to see the programs expand. The key, he said, will be staying on top of the latest research and seeing what is working in other areas.
He said that recently he has been interested in the Community Court program operated by Olympia Municipal Court. He said that the model may not be appropriate for Superior Court, but he has been intrigued by how the program connects people with existing services.
“We live in a resource-rich community, and I think we could do a better job of connecting people with those services,” Lanese said.
In the Position 7 race, Skinder said he would like to see programs that already are successful in District Court expanded to Superior Court. He said that while Veterans Court and Mental Health Court primarily serve defendants whose cases originated in District Court, the same issues are often present for Superior Court defendants. These courts, he said, would help people to receive treatment, resolve some underlying issues that led them to commit crimes, and cut down on the “revolving door” aspect of the criminal justice system.
“We have to change our approach to address the underlying problem, to get people back to being productive members of our community,” Skinder said. “Stuffing some of these people into a jail cell or prison cell isn't solving it.”
Foley said he, too, is happy with the progress current and previous judges have made with the therapeutic courts — but he’d like to see incarceration alternatives taken a step further. He pointed to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program that is being piloted in some parts of King County. The program diverts low-level drug and prostitution offenders from the traditional criminal justice system and into mental health services, substance abuse treatment, housing and job training.
“It doesn’t work for everybody, but it’s way better than just locking people up,” Foley said. “I think it’s something that could work here, and we should try it.”
According to a check of Public Disclosure Commission records, as of Oct. 28, Murphy contributed $50 to incumbent Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s campaign on June 7. Wyman is seeking re-election this year as a Republican. That contribution violates the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct regarding campaign contributions.
Reiko Callner, director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, declined to comment on any specific allegations, instead directing The Olympian to the Code of Judicial Conduct on the agency’s website.
The rules for judicial conduct state that “a judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.”
The rules go on to state that a judge or judicial candidate shall not “make a contribution to a political organization or a nonjudicial candidate for public office.”
Murphy acknowledged that the contribution was a violation, but said she didn’t know about the rule on June 7. She said she has contacted Wyman’s campaign and expects to be issued a refund.
While other candidates have made campaign contributions this year, they have all been to judicial candidates. Lanese contributed $75 to state Supreme Court candidate Charles Wiggins in February and $50 to state Supreme Court candidate Barbara Madsen in September, according to Public Disclosure Commission records.
Skinder contributed $50 to Lanese’s campaign in March, and $50 to Murphy’s campaign in June, records show.
Foley has made no campaign contributions this year, according to the PDC.
Any violations will be addressed by the Commission on Judicial Conduct after the election.
To learn more
For more information about these and other candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot, go to The Olympian’s voters guide.