Guest editorial: Vote wisely

Published on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 by Judge Steven J. Mura

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For the past 20 years, you, the citizens of Whatcom County, have granted me the privilege of serving as one of your three elected Superior Court judges. I have always considered public service to be of great importance in our society. While an honor, serving as a Superior Court judge can be at times difficult and complex. There are cases that take a heavy emotional toll on all the participants, including the judge who presides over the case. When my service ends this coming January, I pray that most of my fellow citizens will look upon my service as having been competent and honorable. For my part, I thank each of you for the honor you have extended to me by allowing me to serve this community over these past two decades.

In addition to taking this opportunity to thank you for your past confidence in my service, I want to provide you with some information on what you should look for in the person you will select to take my place when you vote on November 6.

The public welfare is best served when two things co-exist. First, the public servant must be qualified by way of education, experience and character for the position in which they will serve. Second, the citizen must do his or her part before voting by investigating the qualifications of those who seek to serve in the elected position.  

A judge, unlike those who seek other public offices, is responsible for interpreting our laws, not making that law. And when a case occasionally comes before the court for which there is no existing precedent to follow, the judge should decide the case by applying constitutional principles rather than their personal social desires. It is this latter function that is vital to the preservation of our separation of powers form of government.  If judges look to impose their personal views they become, in effect, a one-person legislature. This is why the founders of our state government determined that judicial elections should be non-partisan. There has been, in my opinion, a disturbing trend over the years for judicial elections to become more partisan.

In fact, our state Supreme Court has recently modified the judicial conduct rules to allow judicial candidates to actively seek endorsements from political parties. While some voters are not well educated in our system of government may like the idea that they can elect a “Republican” or “Democrat” as a judge, by doing so they undermine the whole concept of how our republic is designed to function. Every judge has his or her own political views and preferences, but a good judge will, before each decision is reached, make a conscious effort to make sure their decision is based upon law and not what they would like the law to be.

A Superior Court judge in this county will be called upon to handle primarily the following types of cases: serious felony criminal matters, civil cases involving money disputes above $75,000, divorces, juvenile criminal cases, settlement of estates following a death, guardianship cases, real estate disputes and cases where either the state or local government is a party to the dispute. In addition, a Superior Court judge sits as an appellate court in cases appealed from either a district (county) or municipal (city) court.  Each of these areas has unique legal principles and procedural rules that must be followed. The person you elect should have the broadest experience possible in all of these areas. I know from experience that my service would have been extremely difficult and defective had I not come into the position with as much experience as possible in all of these areas of legal practice. I also know the greatest portion of a Superior Court judge’s workload on the bench is spent in handling felony criminal cases, be it a hearing, trial or appeal. The public will not be well served if errors are made and cases reversed due to judicial mistakes made due to lack of understanding or experience by the judge.

Before you vote in November, please investigate each candidate’s background and experience as much as possible. When that homework is done, you should then consider the personal qualities of the candidate with regard to their values and work ethic.  And finally, you want a judge who will maintain courtroom dignity and be able to withstand the many pressures that come with the job.

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