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District Court judges band together in re-election bid

PORT ORCHARD — The incumbent judges of the Kitsap County District Court — all of them — are running for re-election this year as a slate, hoping to continue the bench’s judicial consistency and personal camaraderie.

“This is a stellar bench,” said District Court administrator Maury Baker. “They are all very intelligent and work together as a team. In their meetings, they challenge each other and speak their minds about each decision. It’s an amazing process to watch.”

District Court judges have a low turnover rate. W. Daniel Phillips, first elected in 1982, is the court’s senior member by a hair. James M. Riehl was elected in 1983, with current Presiding Judge Marilyn Paja following in 1998.

Stephen Holman, the newest member, was appointed by the Kitsap County commissioners earlier this year.

In keeping with Washington law, any appointed judge must face the voters at the first opportunity.

Holman, however, was not a newcomer to the courthouse. He has been serving as a part-time court commissioner since 1990, and has worked with other judges and local attorneys since that time.

“My goal is to provide a safe place where people can resolve disputes,” Holman said. “They should know they have a place to go if they need to get a protection order. And they should feel safe here, whether they’re accused of a crime or are coming in to testify.”

Holman said District Court is known as the “People’s Court” for its handling of a high volume of cases. The court handles misdemeanor criminal cases and civil cases valued at less than $50,000.

Judges are prohibited from saying how they will vote in certain instances, depriving voters of the decision-making process present in other political contests.

Baker said there are ways to make a decision, however, including examining the number of times a certain judge’s rulings are overruled by the Appeals Court.

“In that respect, all of our judges have an excellent record,” he said.

Baker said that he is irked by people who don’t vote for or against judges because they don’t know the candidates.

“Everyone should visit the courtroom and watch the judges at work,” Baker said. “They can see the respect the judges give to those in the courtroom and can determine for themselves if this is how they want to be treated if they appear as a defendant or a witness.”

Holman said a judge’s most important traits are patience and respect.

No candidate has yet announced their intention to oppose any of the incumbent judges. Any interested candidate would have to file for the office before the last week in July.

There are two qualifications for the job — membership in the Washington State Bar and residency in the county the candidate seeks to represent.

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