Never fear, bar poll’s still here
The Clark County Bar Association’s forum for judicial appointee applicants is back on just two weeks after the bar association called off the event due to an apparent misunderstanding with Gov. Jay Inslee’s Office. CCBA letter on canceling judicial forum and poll
The forum, featuring five judicial hopefuls, is set for noon Monday, Feb. 9, in the sixth-floor hearings room at the county’s Public Service Center, 1400 Franklin St., in Vancouver.
Lawyers Camara Banfield, John Fairgrieve, Denise Lukins, Christopher Ramsay and Bob Vukanovich have applied to the governor’s office to succeed Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson, who is retiring in March after 28 years on the bench.
The Clark County Bar Association’s judicial forums, which are held prior to any judicial appointment or election, are open to the public but are usually overrun by attorneys and judges with standing room only. Following the forum, the bar circulates a poll to its nearly 500 members in which they answer questions about their top choice for the position, legal ability, temperament, integrity and relevant experience.
Consequently, there was no shortage of outcry from members when the bar nixed the event.
The bar association’s board voted to cancel the forum and the opinion poll Jan. 23 following a phone call between the association’s executive director, Lisa Darco, and the governor’s general counsel, Nick Brown. During the phone conversation, Brown reportedly said the governor was “not requesting a poll from the CCBA with regard to the appointment to fill Judge Johnson’s position,” association President Arin Dunn wrote in a letter to members.
Dunn said board members couldn’t justify spending the time and expense on the forum and poll if the governor wasn’t interested in knowing the results.
A couple of attorneys who contacted The Columbian said there’s a growing sense that the governor is not taking into account the local legal community’s opinion. In his past two judicial appointments, he selected Bernard Veljacic and Derek Vanderwood who were not the bar association’s top choice, based on the poll of members.
Vancouver attorney Barry Brandenburg said he was concerned Brown’s phone call signaled that the governor already had a selection in mind before ever vetting the applicants and comparing them side-by-side.
But, in a phone interview with The Columbian, Brown said the bar association misunderstood his statements.
He said he was only expressing concern that certain questions in the poll may be “awkward” for Banfield, a senior deputy prosecutor, and Fairgrieve, chief deputy prosecutor because they work together in the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He said he was not suggesting that the bar association scrap the judicial forum and poll. He also denied that the governor already had a selection in mind when Brown called the bar association on Jan. 23.
“Just to be clear, the governor’s office does not actively request bar polls from any of the county bar associations we work with,” Brown wrote later in an email to The Columbian. “… We don’t play any role in their processes, but whatever feedback they provide is helpful and fully considered.”
“In this particular case, I mentioned to the bar association that it was unusual to have two people applying from the same office and that it might be strange to have a preference poll amongst colleagues,” Brown added. “But we did not ask the bar not to do a poll.”
Brown later called the bar association to make his position clear.
A few days later, Dunn sent out another letter announcing that the judicial forum and poll were back on track. CCBA letter on reviving judicial forum and poll
“The governor’s office has since told me it will consider the poll,” Dunn wrote.
“The CCBA remains the only county bar association in Washington to conduct forums for judicial appointment” Dunn added. “We are proud of our long tradition of completing bar polls in this community. “