7 of 16 candidates sign ethics pledge

Fewer than half of this year's Supreme Court and state appeals court candidates have agreed to abide by an ethical campaign pledge. Two sitting justices - conservative Jim Johnson and libertarian Richard Sanders - both ignored requests to sign; so did Stan Rumbaugh, Johnson's challenger, and Bryan Chushkoff, one of Sanders' challengers.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen signed before it was clear she would have no campaign opponent. Sanders’ second challenger, Charlie Wiggins, also signed it.

The pledge is the product of the nonpartisan Washington Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns, which came into being two years after Washington’s 2006 Supreme Court races were contorted by an avalanche of $2 million in independent expenditures.

Attacks in the 2006 judicial campaigns included hard-hitting television ads funded by the conservative Building Industry Association of Washington. The ads painted the sitting chief justice at the time, Gerry Alexander, as too old for the job and accused him of looking the other way on a colleague’s drunken driving.

Other ads funded by liberal groups that year painted Alexander’s challenger, property-rights lawyer John Groen, as a right-wing extremist.

Fast forward to 2010: Semi-retired state appeals court judge William Baker of Everett, who leads the ethical-campaigns group, said this week he was disappointed so few candidates signed the pledges this time around after all but one candidate – a BIAW-backed appeals court challenger – signed it in 2008.

The seven of 16 judicial candidates who signed the pledge in effect agreed to speak truthfully about court cases and repudiate ads by their own campaigns or third-party groups that personally attack other candidates.

Sanders said in a telephone interview Friday that the ethics pledge is not necessary, because candidates already must abide by rules enforced by the state Bar Association or the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Sanders said he also objects to having a self-appointed group stand in judgment of candidates. He also didn’t like that the pledge asks a candidate to denounce the speech of others – in this case, the ads of an independent expenditure group.

Brad Shannon: 360-367-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog