Three judicial candidates for a Superior Court seat scored roughly the same high marks in a recent survey conducted by the Spokane County Bar Association.
In the only race the association asked its attorney members to score, Royce Moe carried a slight advantage over Sam F. Cozza and Terence Ryan.
If one of them gets a majority in next week’s primary, he will fill the $99,015-a-year job created by the retirement of Judge Thomas Merriman.
If none does, the top two go head-to-head in the November election. This is the only contested judge’s race in Spokane County.
About half the association’s 1,018 attorneys returned the anonymous survey, which tries to rank judicial candidates according to four qualities: integrity, judicial temperament, legal ability and experience.
Moe, a Superior Court commissioner the past eight years, earned a collective score of 4.06. Candidates are scored on a 0-to-5 basis.
Private defense attorney Ryan came in second with 3.79; District Court Judge Cozza finished with 3.77.
Moe called the poll a useful tool. He described it as “an overall report card” that tells voters how each candidate ranks with attorneys who go before judges regularly.
“I’m extremely gratified that the lawyers responding think I’m qualified,” he said.
Cozza said the marginal difference between the top score - Moe’s - and his is just 10 positive responses.
He added: “The poll results say we’re all fairly equal.”
He also pointed out the polls don’t dictate voter attitudes.
In 14 previous Spokane County bar polls, six of the highest-rated candidates ended up losing the election, Cozza noted.
Ryan voiced support for the poll, saying the scores are now a little easier for voters to understand.
What the association stopped doing was trying to weight scores based on how many attorneys rated each candidate. An attorney can grade all or none of the candidates, based on familiarity.
Like it did last year, the association simply noted that 90 percent of those answering the poll gave a score to Moe; 80 percent scored Cozza; Ryan got the fewest evaluations - 67 percent of those responding.
Ryan said he’s not sure if many voters know or care about the bar poll.
“I’ve knocked on more than 1,500 doors, and I always hear people say: ‘We don’t know who the candidates are’ and they don’t know about the bar poll,” he said.
Bar association spokesman Matt Andersen said results this year were predictable. “First, they showed that all three are equally qualified. Second, it shows that all three candidates’ skills are well recognized by area attorneys.”