Justice in Motion — Superior Court judicial vacancies

As many have heard, the Honorable Gordon Godfrey, one of the three Grays Harbor County Superior Court judges, recently submitted his resignation, effective Oct. 1, 2014. Not originally from Washington, I was not very familiar with the process of filling a judicial vacancy, so out of curiosity I did a little research and thought I would share what I learned.

Caveat: By no stretch do I count myself an expert on this topic, but I think this gives a good overview of the process.

How this unfolds under state law varies depending on from what court a judge steps down. In light of this impending vacancy, I am only focusing on a vacancy occurring in a county superior court. The laws on this are actually pretty limited. The Washington State Constitution and Revised Code Washington (RCW) are the sources to which one finds guidance.

RCW 2.08.062 presently defines that Grays Harbor County shall have three superior court judges.

Article IV, Section 17 of the Constitution defines the eligibility of judges as “No person shall be eligible to the office of judge of supreme court, or judge of a superior court, unless he shall have been admitted to practice in the courts of record of this state, or of the Territory of Washington.”

The Constitution also dictates various other aspects of the vacancy process, such as mandatory retirement of superior court judges in the year a judge turns 75, four year terms of office, the election process, etc.—none of which are what is occurring presently in Grays Harbor County.

For the present circumstance, when a judge resigns outside the election cycle, RCW 2.08.120 states, “If a vacancy occurs in the office of judge of the superior court, the governor shall appoint a person to hold the office until the election and qualification of a judge to fill the vacancy, which election shall be at the next succeeding general election, and the judge so elected shall hold office for the remainder of the unexpired term.”

The Governor’s Office issued its Notice of Judicial Vacancy on Aug. 5, 2014 (www.governor.wa.gov/office/judicial/Grays_Harbor_County_Superior_Court_A...) requesting any attorney interested in being considered for the appointment submit a Uniform Judicial Evaluation Questionnaire (www.governor.wa.gov/office/judicial/default.aspx) by Aug. 25, 2014. The application is pretty extensive (14 pages). Applicants are encouraged to seek evaluations from the statewide minority bar associations (www.wsba.org/Legal-Community/Minority-Bar-Associations).

It is common practice, though not required, for local bar associations in the county where an attorney applicant wishes to become judge to provide feedback to the governor’s office (www.governor.wa.gov/office/judicial/barassociation.aspx). The Grays Harbor County Bar Association, a private member organization of attorneys who reside or practice in the county, recently commenced its internal process to request feedback from its members. It is an anonymous and unbiased process in which the statistical results are submitted to the governor as part of the information the governor may consider in making the appointment.

On a personal note, while I did not often appear before Judge Godfrey in court, he swore me in when I was admitted to the Washington State Bar Association. He has always been supportive of Northwest Justice Project—in particular, my local office and the work we do in this community. Even when the court’s own budget saw challenges, he supported efforts to maintain our funding. I extend my gratitude to him for his support and wish him well in whatever the future may hold.

To find out if you are eligible for Northwest Justice Project services: For cases including youth (Individualized Education Program and school discipline issues), debt collection cases and tenant evictions, please call for a local intake appointment at (360) 533-2282 or toll free (866) 402-5293. No walk-ins, please.

For all other legal issues, please call our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at nwjustice.org/get-legal-help. Be sure to also check out our law library at: www.washingtonlawhelp.org.


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