Rules of conduct prevent judicial candidates from saying very much about cases, issues or each other. They point to their rèsumès, proclaim respect for the law and insist that they’d be better behind the bench than an opponent.
But that doesn’t stop other groups and people from talking about Laurel Siddoway and Harvey Dunham, the candidates for the state Court of Appeals Division III seat on the Aug. 17 primary.
Several lawyer organizations give Siddoway high ratings and have no ratings for Dunham. He didn’t ask groups representing women, Asian, Latino or gay lawyers because, he says, they weren’t likely to give him a favorable rating. He was late replying to the Association of County Prosecutors and “didn’t respond exactly the way they wanted.”
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said that association has a fairly lengthy rating process on a tight deadline that includes a questionnaire, reference checks and an interview on judicial issues. It rated Siddoway well qualified; Dunham’s response was “10 days late and wasn’t what we’d asked for,” Banks said, so he wasn’t rated.
Dunham did get a five-star rating, however, from Cominus, a Christian-based website that reviews Washington judicial candidates. Dean Isaacson, of Coeur d’Alene, who runs Cominus, said he considers Dunham “a solid, pro-life conservative” while Siddoway is “endorsed by all the liberal judges.” He bases ratings on research, their statements in campaign literature and websites.
Siddoway, 56, was a partner in the Spokane firm of Randall and Danskin before being appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire this spring to an opening on the appeals court. She was active in fighting the proposed Lincoln Street Bridge but may be best known for serving as the city of Spokane’s special counsel for River Park Square for Mayors John Powers and Jim West.
Critics of the downtown mall contend the city should have taken the case to trial over fraud rather than changing strategy, settling and assuming the debt of bonds sold for the garage. Ron Wright, a retired California police officer who now lives in Spokane and contends the mall deal was a criminal conspiracy by the Cowles family, includes her as a “principal in this fraud,” even though Siddoway wasn’t involved in the original agreements and generally sat at the opposite table from the mall’s attorneys in the various legal battles.
The Cowles family companies own the mall and The Spokesman-Review.
Siddoway, who said she worked to get the best overall financial outcome for the city, said she finds it curious that Wright has formed his opinions without ever meeting or talking to her.
Dunham said he doesn’t know very much about River Park Square and “it’s not an issue I’ve talked about.” Instead, he’s comparing his judicial experience to hers.
Dunham, 59, served as a pro tem judge in Spokane County District Court for about seven years and in 2005 got an appointment to the bench that proved controversial. Dunham had applied for the opening but was not among those recommended by a search panel. Commissioners Phil Harris and Mark Richard chose him anyway, with Harris insisting it was within their power to make a political appointment.
When Dunham ran the next year, he lost in the primary. He also ran unsuccessfully for District Court in 1998 and for another Appeals Court seat in 2008. He doesn’t serve as a pro tem judge anymore, but still refers to himself as “Judge Harvey” on his website. A judge retains the title after leaving the bench, just like a senator or governor does, he said.
The point, he said, is that he’s been a judge and proved he has “a judicial temperament.” Until taking office in May, Siddoway had not been a judge.
She contends the Appeals Court is far different from District Court, which handles misdemeanor trials, felony arraignments, motions and testimony: “It really is irrelevant to the Court of Appeals.”
Siddoway had a practice that involved serving as a senior litigator at Randall, an arbitrator and mediator. She has taught as an adjunct professor at Gonzaga School of Law.
Dunham’s practice is a mixture of civil and criminal defense work, wills, probate, and administrative law.
Judicial candidates aren’t allowed to seek endorsements, but their campaigns usually do. The job is nonpartisan, but Dunham is endorsed by the Spokane County Republicans and most local elected GOP officials, and over the years he’s contributed to the party and its candidates.
Siddoway’s endorsements include a list of Supreme Court and Appeals Court members, along with current and past members of the local bench. She and her husband, Doug, have contributed to Gregoire and other Democrats, and there are some recognizable Democratic and Republican names in the list of endorsements; none are identified by party.
The winner in the primary is essentially elected; he or she will appear on the general election ballot without opposition.