Two candidates vying to become Spokane County District Court’s newest judge are on their way to the general election after a close primary race.
Randy Brandt, who was appointed to the district court bench in 2011 but lost his seat in the 2014 election, and county deputy prosecuting attorney Patrick Johnson, who is running for office for the first time, together captured a roughly equal share of about 75 percent of the vote. Their competition, Lynden Smithson, a Spokane city prosecutor who did not move forward after the primary, came in third with about 23 percent of the vote.
Johnson edged out Brandt by about 3 percentage points, becoming the front-runner headed into November’s general election with roughly 40 percent of county voters behind him. But with Smithson choosing not to endorse either candidate, reasoning that he plans to run again in four years, it’s unknown who his voters will back.
“My thought is, Lynden and I are probably more similar, have a similar circle of friends and supporters,” said Johnson. “My hope is I will pick off more of Lynden’s supporters than Randy is able to.”
Brandt too said he and Smithson were friends and ran in the same circles.
“I don’t know how Lynden votes are going to go,” he said. “He’s a friend of mine. But I don’t know how many people know that.”
In early September, the Spokane County Bar Association completed a multistage interview and questionnaire process to rate both candidates on a scale of “not qualified” to “exceptionally well-qualified.” Brandt chose not to participate, saying that the process was flawed and interview panels were composed of attorneys who were unfamiliar with his time on the bench. He also had other time commitments, he said.
Still, when he was appointed in 2011 to the bench after a judge retired, he was rated “qualified.” The bar association’s most recent ratings have not yet been released.
Johnson, who has been in the county prosecutor’s office for 17 years, is running on a platform of military experience. If elected, he said he would be interested in running the county’s veterans court, where veterans who commit crimes are allowed access to services such as substance abuse classes, rehabilitation, counseling and other avenues to reduce recidivism.
Johnson has been endorsed by Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, County Prosecutor Larry Haskell and nearly all sitting judges in the superior and district courts.
Brandt has leaned heavily into his message of “experience makes the difference.” As a judge pro tem for many years, and then a court commissioner and finally a duly-appointed district court judge from 2011 to 2014, he’s the sole candidate with judicial experience.
Brandt has been endorsed by some judges and retired law enforcement officers.