The candidates with the most judicial experience - Sam Cozza and Royce Moe - made it through the Spokane County Superior Court judicial primary and will face off in November.
The winner in the general election will replace retiring Judge Thomas Merryman.
Cozza, 41, a hometown boy who has been a Spokane County District Court judge since 1990, took an early lead in Tuesday’s primary, but it didn’t appear he would garner more than 45 percent of the vote.
If he had earned a majority, Cozza would have won the seat outright.
The judge - as one of 10 on the Spokane County Superior Court - decides criminal and civil cases and handles District Court appeals. The job pays about $99,000 per year.
Moe, a Superior Court commissioner, received about a third of the vote.
The third candidate, Spokane attorney Terence Ryan, had less than 24 percent.
Cozza, a former Spokane County deputy prosecutor, spent several thousand dollars on his campaign but relied heavily on door-to-door contact.
“You have to knock on doors. People in this county want to meet the candidates and talk to them,” Cozza said while watching results downtown.
“It’s especially important in this race because you don’t have party labels,” said Cozza.
Moe and Cozza were seen as slight favorites in a race among three candidates with similar backgrounds and no controversial positions.
Ryan - though he’d served as a pro tempore judge - has logged less time on the bench. He has been a private trial attorney for the past 17 years.
Moe lost in his first run for a court seat two years ago. However, he received the highest rankings last week in a Spokane County Bar Association survey of lawyers and judges.
But Cozza said at the time that most voters don’t use bar association polls to guide their votes, and he’s apparently right.
Only eight of the 14 highest-rated candidates in past county bar polls have ended up winning their elections.
Moe, 49, said he’ll try to increase public awareness of his qualifications before the November election. As court commissioner, he handles some of the less complicated cases going through Superior Court.
He wondered if Cozza had gained some advantage with voters by using the word “judge” in his campaign signs.
“Obviously, my camp will have to work harder to show that there is no incumbent in this race,” Moe said.
The winner gets a four-year term on the court.