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County judge candidates meet questions from Spokane Bar Association

Judicial candidates for district court judge from left, Randy Brandt and Patrick Johnson along with candidates running for superior court judge, Michelle Szambelan and Dennis Cronin, far right participate in at a candidate forum at the Necta Tasting Room in Spokane on Friday, Oct.5, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Judicial candidates for district court judge from left, Randy Brandt and Patrick Johnson along with candidates running for superior court judge, Michelle Szambelan and Dennis Cronin, far right participate in at a candidate forum at the Necta Tasting Room in Spokane on Friday, Oct.5, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Four candidates hoping to fill two county judge positions faced Spokane County Bar Association members Friday afternoon at the organization’s first forum of the 2018 election season.

Held at Nectar Catering and Events downtown, dozens from Spokane County’s law community crowded into a small room to hear the candidates answer a series of questions. Candidates include Randy Brandt and Patrick Johnson, running for district court judge, and Dennis Cronin and Michelle Szameblan, running for superior court judge.

Questions ranged from motivations to necessary skills, whether judges should be elected or appointed and what each condiered their most memorable case.

Szambelan, the only candidate currently on the bench, said while she’d only been in the position for 10 months after being appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee, she’d like to continue in her current role. She pointed to her nearly 10 years on the municipal court bench as part of her qualifying experience.

“One of the things that I do in my current role is that I’m sort of like a utility player in baseball,” she said. “When there’s a spot to cover, I’m the first line of attack. I’ve had a lot of exposure to a lot of different dockets.”

Cronin, who opened his own private practice, told the bar association he was the most qualified because he had the most interdisciplinary experience. When asked about judicial qualities, he named patience as among the most important.

“With patience comes knowledge,” he said. “With patience comes the willingness to listen.”

One of the more contentious questions asked of the candidates was which bar associations or groups they’d been rated by, and whether they’d participated in the county bar association’s rating process, which is set to release their ratings on Monday.

Johnson, who participated in the candidate questionnaire, challenged Brandt, who did not, when the retired judge said he received a “very well qualified” rating from the association in 2014, when he lost re-election in that year’s district court race. He also faulted Brandt for bowing out of this year’s rating process.

“I did participate,” Johnson said, “I did want to be out there.”

Brandt, meanwhile, said he disagreed with Johnson’s statement but “reserved the right to be incorrect.”

“ I feel I’ve earned the right to return, he said. “I have the necessary experience.”

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