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Ads attack conservative state justice

Donors to anti-Johnson PAC include three labor groups

OLYMPIA – Liberal advocacy groups have ramped up their bid to oust state Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson, the high court’s most conservative member.

Johnson faces Tacoma attorney Stan Rumbaugh in the Aug. 17 primary.

A group called Impartial Justice spent about $42,000 last week on mailers that show a small cutout picture of Johnson inside a business-suit pocket, and another $10,000 on a Web video ad with the same theme, urging voters to vote against “special deals for special interests.”

All of Impartial Justice’s money comes from a left-of-center group called FairPAC, first created during the 2006 Supreme Court election in response to money being spent by conservative groups that year. FairPAC has raised about $182,000 in the last month, with more than half of that coming from three labor groups: the Washington Education Association, the Service Employees International Union, and the Washington State Labor Council.

Alex Hays, a spokesman for Johnson’s campaign, said the groups are angry over court decisions that didn’t go their way.

In an April opinion authored by Johnson, the court ruled that it couldn’t order Gov. Chris Gregoire to budget for raises awarded to the SEIU’s Local 775. The union had been awarded pay and benefit increases worth more than $80 million in binding arbitration. But Gregoire refused to include the money in her budget, citing a looming budget deficit.

Lisa MacLean, a spokeswoman for both FairPAC and Impartial Justice, denied they were trying to pack the court with labor-friendly justices. Two of the justices who voted with Johnson – Gerry Alexander and Tom Chambers – got FairPAC’s support in 2006.

“We’re interested in maintaining and improving the fairness of the Washington state Supreme Court,” MacLean said.

MacLean and other Johnson opponents take issue with Johnson’s ties to the powerful Building Industry Association of Washington. MacLean said there is a clear “pattern of ruling in favor of the interests who have funded his campaigns.”

In a recent debate, Johnson called that charge a “bum rap.”

He noted that he recused himself from the only case that came before him where BIAW was a party. In the other cases, where BIAW filed friend-of-the-court briefs, he said he took positions he’s clearly stood for all along, like property rights.

“I never go back, and never did know, who contributed to my campaign,” Johnson said.

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