Go to the politics section for more local and national politics coverage.
Supreme Court candidates Sanders, Wiggins spar in Seattle debate
Posted by Cathy McLain
From Times staff reporter Carly Flandro
Richard Sanders, a Washington State Supreme Court justice, is known for writing dissents -- particularly in decisions pertaining to violent sexual offenders.
That reputation came under scrutiny Tuesday night in a debate between the incumbent Sanders and his challenger, Bainbridge Island attorney and former Division II Court of Appeals Judge Charlie Wiggins, who frequently serves as a pro tem judge in Jefferson County Superior Court.
A panel made up of a journalist and two law professors questioned the candidates on touchy subjects such as dissenting opinions, judicial campaign contributions and judicial elections.
When asked about the role of dissenters on the court, Wiggins said that judges have a responsibility to try to work together. He said that if a justice on the nine-member state Supreme Court frequently dissents, he needs to ask whether the other eight justices are wrong or if he is wrong.
Sanders, whose record shows he has written more dissenting opinions than majority opinions, said trying for a consensus in every case wouldn't be realistic and that the founding fathers wanted differing views.
"Personally, I'm a team player, but sometimes it's hard to get the other guys on the team," Sanders quipped.
Sanders said he wants to be able to say why he's right and the other eight justices are wrong.
The panel also asked Sanders specifically about more than a dozen dissenting opinions he's written regarding decisions on sexually violent offenders. Sanders said he had so many dissents because he's trying to maintain rights for offenders.
"These are human beings," he said. "Even the rights of the most disfavored should be protected."
Wiggins pointed out that Sanders visited sexually violent offenders at the state's Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, and was later disciplined for the appearance of impropriety.
The candidates differed in their opinions about judicial campaign contributions, with Wiggins saying there should be limitations on contributions because people believe they impact the way decisions are made in court.
"I haven't seen evidence that campaign contributions affect court decisions," Sanders countered.
The candidates also discussed the judicial election process, and Wiggins suggested there should be a commission of randomly selected citizens to vet candidates.
Sanders and Wiggins did agree on one issue -- that citizens should not be able to amend the state constitution as easily as they can change a law through the initiative process.
The event was sponsored by the Puget Sound Federalist Society and was held at the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle. About 30 people attended the dinner-style forum.
Covers the Eastside.
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.
Covers local government.
Covers politics and regional issues from Washington, D.C.
Covers Seattle City Hall.
Covers King County and urban affairs.