Voters are replacing two judges on the Thurston County Superior Court bench on Nov. 8. We favor Chris Lanese over Laura Murphy and John Skinder over Jim Foley.
Position 1: Most of the court’s caseload is criminal justice related. But regulatory challenges and lawsuits over everything from state tax decisions to campaign finance regulations and initiatives are more common fare in the Thurston County court than most other counties.
That is one reason Lanese, 34, whose background includes complex litigation at the Attorney General’s Office, appears uniquely suited to replace Judge Chris Wickham.
Murphy, 55, brings more varied life and work experiences to bear. If elected, she would become the court’s second Murphy after Judge Carol Murphy.
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Though Lanese brings the chops of a Harvard-education attorney, we recognize that Murphy brings background and skills from the trenches. She has worked as a county deputy prosecutor, a correctional officer, District Court judge pro tem and Superior Court commissioner pro tem.
The lifelong county resident grew up on 180 acres near Maytown and attended local schools, later earning her law degree from Seattle University. Murphy is on the board of the Thurston County Bar Association, volunteered at the Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services Clinic and reports giving hundreds of hours of help to those needing it at the SafePlace shelter.
Lanese grew up in northern California, is a graduate of Dartmouth with a law degree from Harvard and serves as a managing assistant attorney general in the AG’s tort claims division. He says members of his family have lived in South Sound since the 1890s, and he has used spare time since arriving about seven years ago to good advantage for our community.
He’s served on panels that deal with pro bono legal services and civil legal aid at the Thurston County and state bar association levels. He also has been working on a project to get legal services to more indigent parties who appear in family court.
Lanese is preferred by two-thirds of Thurston County Bar Association members who voted in a preference poll, by a margin of 99 to 47. He received endorsements from all members of the state Supreme Court as well as retired chief justice Gerry Alexander. A slew of retired Thurston County judge also lined up behind him, along with current and former attorneys general, former county sheriffs of the two major parties, and state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
Murphy is endorsed by Superior Court Commissioner Indu Thomas, former sheriff Gary Edwards, the current and former presidents of South Puget Sound Community College, former Lacey mayor Virgil Clarkson and Barbara Clarkson.
In many ways we wish Lanese and Murphy had chosen to run in separate races.
Position 7: This is for the seat held by Judge Gary Tabor, a former Thurston County chief deputy prosecutor. Skinder is a county deputy prosecutor who lives in Tumwater; longtime attorney Foley of Olympia has a varied legal background that includes a private practice; he’s run several times for the Supreme Court and other lower judicial positions.
Skinder, 46, once considered going into the Catholic priesthood and has an obvious passion for the law that is rooted in wanting to improve people’s lives. His roughly 20 years’ experience as a deputy prosecutor includes work heading a special victims team and a unit that focused on domestic violence; more recently he’s been legal adviser for several county departments.
Foley, 61, is a more independent thinker and he counts work as a firefighter, boat builder and sailor among his past occupations.
Foley thinks there are administrative ways to speed action on detainees so they spend less time in jail, and he questions whether a new courthouse is needed. If one is built he thinks the county should find a way to get it near the new jail.
Skinder is the traditional choice and is overwhelmingly preferred by 126-to-17 by Thurston County Bar Association members who expressed a preference. Skinder’s backers include a broad swath of community and elected officials from both major parties, numerous Supreme Court justices, and both current and retired Superior Court judges.
On balance, Skinder is the better known quantity who has earned trust from those who work with him.