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Yakima Herald-Republic




Temperament favors McCloud for court seat

October 16, 2012 — The retirement of state Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers, who grew up in Wapato, brings a race whose general-election candidates offer a study in contrasts — and similarities.

Richard Sanders served 15 years on the court before losing narrowly to Charlie Wiggins two years ago. Sheryl Gordon McCloud is a lawyer with considerable experience in appellate and trial courts — she has argued about 60 cases before the state high court — but has never been a judge. This is also an ostensibly nonpartisan race with partisan overtones; Sanders has the backing of Republicans and pro-business organizations; McCloud the support of Democrats and social-action groups.

Amid those differences, both candidates hold key similarities in strongly supporting the rights of defendants — much to the dismay of prosecutors who are cool to both candidates. And both bring strong qualifications to the office. But all told, we believe McCloud offers more of a sense of fairness and a stronger judicial temperament. The Yakima Herald-Republic endorses Sheryl Gordon McCloud for Washington state Supreme Court Position 9.

Both candidates' advocacy for defendants' rights hits home in separate Yakima Valley cases. McCloud is the lead attorney on appeal for Joel Ramos, who is serving an 80-year prison sentence for his role in the brutal slaying of a family of four in Outlook in 1993. Ramos was 14 at the time, and McCloud believes he was too young to receive such a lengthy sentence. He recently won a chance at a sentence reduction when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers.

On another issue, Sanders voted with a 6-3 majority in 2010 when the court tossed out a Yakima County murder conviction on the grounds that it was unfair to hold a trial in a jailhouse courtroom and not in the courthouse. The ruling reversed the conviction of James F. Jaime, whose 2006 murder trial was conducted in a courtroom in the basement of the Yakima County jail instead of across the street in the county courthouse. Jaime later had his sentence cut in half, and the Supreme Court ruling has had implications for other murder convictions here.

We have long cheered Sanders' support of open government, but that is offset by his lack of judicial temperament and his perceived selectivity in support of individual rights. In 2008, Sanders, no fan of the federal Patriot Act, shouted "Tyrant!" at then-U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey during a meeting of the Federalist Society in Washington, D.C. In this state in 2003, Sanders visited a commitment center holding violent sexual predators, one of whom was named in a pending case before the court; a special panel of the Supreme Court admonished Sanders. The justice later disqualified himself from the case. Sanders' philosophical defense of individual rights at times causes him to lose sight of the role of an arbiter of justice.

Our concerns about Sanders in 2010, and our endorsement of Wiggins, predated news from a judicial conference in Seattle, at which he said African-Americans are overrepresented in the state prison system because they commit more crimes. In response, the Seattle Times pulled its endorsement of Sanders, and the then-justice blames the resulting publicity for his narrow defeat; he lost by fewer than 7,000 votes out of almost 2 million cast.

In meeting with the Herald-Republic editorial board, he first stated that he thought statements made at the conference were off the record — we're not sure what that changes — then seemed dismissive of concerns about fairness in the judicial system. McCloud, on the other hand, pointed to studies commissioned by the Supreme Court that have found problems with ethnic groups and poor defendants gaining fair treatment in the judicial system; one study this spring focused on the juvenile justice system.

McCloud touts a number of recent courtroom victories that cross the usual political lines. In a decision in May, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of a client who has been on death row for 18 years; the court said prosecutors suppressed evidence in her favor. Other legal victories include establishing the right to an open courtroom during jury selection and a finding that the Second Amendment's right to bear arms applies to Washington state.

Sanders has been endorsed by Chambers and fellow Justice Jim Johnson. McCloud has the support of Chief Justice Barbara Madsen along with justices Mary Fairhurst, Steven Gonzalez and Wiggins. A bipartisan group, Justice for Washington, rates both as qualified; the King County Bar Association rates Sanders as qualified and McCloud exceptionally well-qualified. We’ll go with McCloud as the better qualified of the two.

• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello., P.O. Box 1460, Silverdale, WA  98383
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