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The Olympian




Johnson deserves re-election to state Supreme Court

Thursday, July 29, 2010 — Three state Supreme Court justices are up for re-election this summer and fall.

Barbara Madsen, the 55th chief justice and third woman to serve on the state’s highest court, did not draw an election opponent.

Justice Richard Sanders, a libertarian, wasn’t so lucky. He faces the challenge of former judge Charlie Wiggins of Bainbridge Island, and Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff. The top two candidates in the Aug. 17 primary will advance to the general election in November.

That leaves one Supreme Court race that will be decided by voters in August. Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson faces the challenge of Stan Rumbaugh, an attorney in private practice in Tacoma.

The Olympian’s editorial board supports the re-election of Justice Johnson to a second, six-year term, based largely on his steadfast adherence to the state constitution and his reliable support of the First Amendment. Johnson has consistently supported free speech rights and the ability of citizens to hold their government officials accountable through open public meetings and access to government-held records.

Rumbaugh took off the gloves early in the campaign, accusing Johnson of siding with corporations, insurers and the state builders’ lobby in his rulings. Rumbaugh says, for example, that Justice Johnson accepted $200,000 in campaign contributions from the Building Industry Association of Washington in the 2004 election, then ruled in BIAW’s favor in 16 of the 17 cases where the BIAW advanced a legal opinion. Rumbaugh says that no organization is entitled to a sure vote on the Supreme Court.

The Olympian’s editorial board quizzed Johnson on that allegation, and he is quick to explain that his loyalty is to the constitution, not the parties to legal proceedings.

We don’t see Johnson as a sure vote for the BIAW on the court, so much as a strict constitutionalist who will defend victim rights, property rights and First Amendment rights as they are spelled out in the founding documents of the state and nation.

Rumbaugh is a credible challenger. Over the last 30 years, he has built his solo private practice into a four-attorney law firm. He prides himself on standing up for injured workers and victims of domestic violence, saying he represents “Main Street” clients. He has assembled an impressive list of community service, ranging from his seven years on the board of directors for Bates Technical College to 13 years of service on the Tacoma Housing Authority.

Rumbaugh, however, cannot match Johnson’s legal experience. While Rumbaugh has trial experience, he has personally argued only a few cases at the appellate and Supreme Court level.

Johnson, by comparison, enjoyed a wide breadth of legal experience in both the public and private sector before his election as a justice six years ago. Johnson has written initiatives and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

There is no doubt that Justice Johnson brings a conservative voice to the state Supreme Court. In that regard, he offers some degree of balance to a court that is skewed to the left of center.

This newspaper did not endorse Johnson six years ago. We feared, given his conservative activist bent, that he would imbue his legal decisions with his conservative ideology and be a marginalized, ineffective, lone voice on the right.

That’s not what has happened. As Johnson notes, he has heard more than 700 cases, and written 140 opinions. Eighty of those opinions have been in the majority, reflecting an ability to find common legal ground with the more liberal members of the bench.

When deciding cases, Justice Johnson can be relied upon to bring his court colleagues back to sound constitutional principles of law — most always in some historical context.

His conservative bent brings balance to the bench, and Rumbaugh simply falls short in making a strong case for replacing a seasoned justice with a newcomer.

For that reason, voters should re-elect Justice Jim Johnson on Aug. 17., P.O. Box 1460, Silverdale, WA  98383
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