Opinion

Keep Owens on high court

Voters should select Supreme Court Justice Susan J. Owens over state Sen. Stephen Johnson when they cast ballots for the Nov. 7 general election.

Owens' 25 years of judicial experience, including the past six years on the state's highest court, make her the far superior candidate. Sen. Johnson's legal experience is centered mostly on real estate, business, estate and escrow law. He has minimal trial experience.

Johnson, a Republican from Kent, has served in the Senate for the past dozen years. He is perhaps best known for his efforts in support of charter schools, which voters have rejected twice in recent years.

Johnson's voting record shows him to be a conservative ideologue. In recent years he has voted to restrict partial-birth abortions, voted in support of a bill requiring parental notification for minors seeking an abortion, voted in support of President Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security and voted against giving gays and lesbians equal protection under the state's Human Rights Commission. That conservative viewpoint is already well represented on the state Supreme Court.

Sen. Johnson did support a shield bill in the state Legislature that would protect reporters from disclosing their confidential sources, and his assistance there was appreciated by this newspaper.

Johnson says his judicial philosophy is that of personal rights over government intrusion. He says the underlying premise in the state constitution is to protect the people from the excesses of government. He also said he would be an advocate for open government.

What Johnson is asking of voters is to replace a veteran of the court with an untested newcomer who would serve only a single six-year term.

That doesn't make sense.

At 66 years of age, Johnson said he would only serve one term. The court's mandatory retirement age of 75 would force him to leave midway through a second term, so he would limit himself to the one six-year term, Johnson said. In terms of legal experience - at the trial court level - Sen. Johnson simply can't measure up to Justice Owens.

It's true that the King County Bar Association has ranked Johnson "well qualified" and Owens one step lower at "qualified." But that's intellectual snobbism. Seattle lawyers look down their nose at Owens because she was merely a District Court judge on the Olympic peninsula.

The Olympian's editorial board believes that experience dealing with real people with real issues at the court closest to the people helped set a moral tone for a small community. That experience serves her well, as does her years as a tribal court judge - the first in state history, according to one court historian.

Owens, 57, doesn't put on airs. Some mistake her succinctness for a lack of ability. But Chief Justice Gerry Alexander thinks enough of his colleague to appoint her as chair of the state's judicial education committee and the committee governing court interpreters.

The editorial board has not always agreed with Justice Owen's decisions. She was wrong, for example, on an important case allowing government agents to hide behind "attorney/client" privilege to keep records out of the hands of the public.

But when it comes to trial court experience, Owens runs circles around her opponent. That's why voters should re-elect Justice Susan Owens to the state Supreme Court on Nov. 7. Supreme Court - Pos. 2

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