A Pierce County trial lawyer, Stan Rumbaugh, has filed to run for state Supreme Court against one-term Justice James Johnson, saying Johnson is a conservative swayed by ideology.
Rumbaugh’s entry means voters could see at least two hotly contested high court races on the Aug. 17 ballot. The other pits former judge Charlie Wiggins of Bainbridge Island against libertarian Justice Richard Sanders; both filed to run this week.
Johnson and Sanders have been stockpiling money – $101,933 raised by Sanders and $62,309 by Johnson – and Wiggins had raised $76,395 as of Wednesday reports at the state Public Disclosure Commission.
There are early indications that the campaigns could get rough, but it is too early to say whether it will mirror the campaigns of 2006. Those campaigns saw $1.7 million spent by candidates for justice and $2.1 million spent by third-party groups that attacked candidates from both sides of the spectrum.
Rumbaugh took off the gloves early, accusing Johnson of siding with corporations, insurers and the state builders’ lobby in his rulings. Johnson’s campaign hit back almost as caustically, saying Rumbaugh lacks experience in appellate law and is unqualified for the Supreme Court.
Similarly, Wiggins is questioning the conduct of Sanders, a defender of individual rights. For instance, the court admonished Sanders over an apparent impropriety after his 2003 visits to a sex-offender facility at a time when some of the offenders’ cases were before the court.
Also on the ballot this year: Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. Madsen has no opponent and has raised $10,990. But Madsen has hired a manager in her fourth campaign.
Rumbaugh said his candidacy is meant to give common people a “level playing field” in court. He said a large share of his 30-year law practice has been spent as a personal-injury advocate or trial lawyer, and he described himself as a centrist who has voted for Democratic and Republican candidates, more frequently for Democrats.
He said he also has served on the boards for Bates Technical College and the Tacoma Housing Authority, and on health and social-services groups.
In a campaign statement, he said of Johnson: “The incumbent has shown a troubling, deeply ideological perspective in his opinions, siding almost exclusively with corporations, the insurance industry, and the conservative BIAW – one of his main campaign contributors.”
Asked for specifics, Rumbaugh cited a product-safety case involving Hyundai Corp. He said Johnson wanted to limit sanctions against the manufacturer over failures to disclose information.
He said Johnson voted on the Building Industry Association of Washington’s side 16 times out of 17 cases in which BIAW lawyers filed friend-of-court briefs on cases that other parties were fighting.
Alex Hays, a spokesman for Johnson’s campaign, questioned Rumbaugh’s fitness to serve as a judge and his motivation in attacking Johnson, whom he described as dedicated to protecting individuals’ rights under the Constitution.
“Mr. Rumbaugh has no judicial experience, no appellate experience; he is unqualified to serve on the state Supreme Court,” Hays said. “His only work is being a personal-injury attorney at the trial court level. This explains why he is making baseless attacks against Justice Johnson. It is his only recourse.’’
Rumbaugh disputed that, saying his law firm is small, with four lawyers who work cooperatively on cases such as appeals.
“We’ve probably had a total of eight to 10 cases that found their way into the appellate system, and several to the Supreme Court,” he said.
Brad Shannon: 360-357-1688 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog