Clallam Bar Association survey picks challenger over incumbent judge; jurist initiates own poll

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Bar Association has rated Cathy Marshall, a candidate for Clallam County District Court 1 judge, above three-term incumbent Rick Porter.

Marshall, an assistant attorney general for the state Attorney General's Office, received an overall average rating of 2.85 out of a possible top score of 4 to Porter's 1.83 rating, the bar association said in a statement.

The surveys were tabulated Aug. 7.

Porter, saying Friday he was upset he could not observe the count and that only bar association members could participate, conducted his own survey, tabulating those results Aug. 6.

He and Marshall are vying for the judgeship of Clallam County District Court 1, which covers the Port Angeles and Sequim areas — the east side of the county — in the Nov. 4 general election.

In his own poll, Porter came out on top, 3.56 out of a possible top score of 4 to Marshall's 1.9.

Marshall, the bar association president, said Friday she did not take part in formulating or processing the surveys or organizing the candidates forum for lawyers that preceded it.

She dismissed the results of Porter's poll.

“It's the act of a desperate man who has control issues,” she said Friday in an email.

“I think I'm a viable candidate, and he sees that, and that's making him a little anxious,” Marshall said in an interview. “I think he's a little nervous.”

Marshall, who has been an assistant state attorney general for nine years, said she was “honored” by the bar poll results.

She asserted that the results show that lawyers who work in Porter's own court “have faith in my work and my commitment to the law and to fairness.”

The bar poll showed Marshall scored higher in three categories on a scale of 1 to 4: judgment and objectivity; demeanor and temperament; and competence, experience and legal ability.

The overall performance score was an average of how the candidates were rated overall by each attorney.

The survey was mailed to all of the association's 74 lawyers, 47 of whom responded.

Porter's survey, paid for by the Committee to Re-elect Judge Porter, was mailed to 42 lawyers, and he received about half of the surveys back, he said Friday.

The surveys were mailed to all the lawyers from Clallam County listed in the phone book, Porter said.

Respondents scored Porter higher in all four categories on a scale of 1 to 4: judicial experience, trial experience, administrative ability and legal ability.

Porter said he conducted his own poll because only dues-paying bar association members were allowed to vote.

That meant four of six attorneys who work on his campaign, including him, were thus unable to vote.

Porter said he also was upset that neither he nor anyone from his campaign was able to observe the vote tabulation, opening up the specter of “potential manipulation” of the ballot results.

“Unless they have something to hide, why would they refuse to let us watch them count the ballots?” Porter said.

“The way they run the bar poll, it only takes a few people to manipulate those results to swing the votes by a significant margin,” he added.

He said in a news release announcing the results of his poll that “members are allowed to vote in a bloc (i.e., a small groups of lawyers give one person all 'ones' and the other all 'fours' in order to skew the results.”

In a subsequent interview, Porter said the bar association poll was more subjective than objective.

“It allows the attorneys to vote in a way that advances their political agenda,” Porter said, adding that he would have allowed observers to watch his campaign supporters conduct the tally of his own survey.

Port Angeles attorney Simon Barnhart, a bar association past president, coordinated the organization's survey.

At first, Barnhart planned to allow Porter's campaign representatives to observe the tally, then changed his mind.

“On reflection, I determined it would not be in the best interest of the process to have observers because that could lead to chaos, not necessarily in this particular instance but looking forward,” Barnhart said.

Potentially having “a room full of people” watching the surveys being tallied did not appear workable, he added.

“Moreover, it didn't seem necessary,” he said.

“This isn't an election. It seems a little overblown to me.

“This is an evaluation process the bar association provides to its members.”

The tallying of surveys has never been an open process for about three decades of such surveys, Barnhart said.

“I don't believe I've ever seen a dialogue of this nature, where a candidate was challenging the credibility of the people conducting the evaluation process and challenging the evaluation process itself in this way.”

There are 137 lawyers in Clallam County, including 117 who are actively practicing law, said Debra Carnes, spokeswoman for the Washington Bar Association.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 17. 2014 8:53AM
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