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Editorial: In appeals court race, Siddoway stands out

Two seasoned lawyers with limited judicial experience are competing for a seat on one of the state’s most important courts, the state Court of Appeals, Division III.

Laurel Siddoway holds the job now, having been appointed to it in March by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Her opponent is attorney Harvey Dunham, who once was a judge pro tem and briefly an appointed judge in Spokane County District Court, dealing with misdemeanors and minor civil cases.

The Court of Appeals is the place where dissatisfied parties can go if they think the trial court let them down. Washington law allows citizens that option. Whether a case goes further is up to the Supreme Court – and it turns down most such requests. Therefore, most Court of Appeals decisions stand.

Such a job calls for keen legal knowledge, broad experience and raw intelligence. Without a substantial, relevant record against which to measure such qualities, it’s necessary to rely on common sense as well as the wisdom of others who have specialized insight about the work and the candidates.

What do we know about Dunham and Siddoway? We know that he’s a Republican who belongs to the National Rifle Association and the American Legion, and she’s a Democrat who supports the American Civil Liberties Union – factors that say something about their politics and personalities but nothing about their legal ability.

We know that Siddoway asked for an evaluation of the two of them by the Spokane County Bar Association, but Dunham declined. We know that she has fared well when inspected by her peers and he has not.

Dunham’s stint on the District Court was possible because county commissioners, having created their own evaluation panel instead of relying on the bar association, turned their noses up at the list of five recommended candidates and chose Dunham, who hadn’t made the list.

We know that while Siddoway didn’t finish at the top of bar members’ ranking of the eight candidates who sought the governor’s appointment, she did rate high – and is now being endorsed by four of the other seven.

We know that Dunham’s most recognizable endorsements are from Republican legislators and county commissioners in Division III’s six counties. Siddoway, meanwhile, has the backing of three Supreme Court justices, 14 current or past Court of Appeals judges, 26 current or past trial court judges and more than 100 citizens, including several Republicans, one of them a past county GOP chairman.

In Dunham’s favor, he has dealt with more criminal cases, the majority of the Court of Appeals’ load. Siddoway’s experience is mostly in business and securities law. On the other hand, she’s the one who’s admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court, the 7th and 9th U.S. circuit courts and Washington’s and three other states’ supreme courts. She’s also a past president of the Federal Bar Association.

It would be nice to examine actual appellate court decisions by both candidates, but in the absence of that, we rely heavily on the impressions they’ve made on other professionals. For this important judicial post, which will be decided Aug. 17, Siddoway is the better choice.

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