PORT ANGELES — The three candidates for the District Court 1 judgeship disagree on what is the top issue facing the court.
Pam Lindquist, Suzanne Hayden and Dave Neupert faced off during the League of Women Voters forum at Port Angeles City Hall on Monday evening.
The primary election will be Aug. 7. Ballots for that election will be mailed to voters today.
The top two vote-getters in the primary will go on to the general election. The general election winner will succeed four-term incumbent Rick Porter, who is not running for re-election.
Lindquist said the largest issue facing the court is the lack of respect.
“The lack of respect to the court and a lack of respect from the court,” she said. “By treating every person that comes to court with respect, by making sure every person who comes gets a fair and full hearing so they know they’ve been heard, by making sure the court presents itself with the type of demeanor that’s required for that office to bolster the public confidence and providing a rigorously honest, impartial and independent judiciary … that’s where I can help the most.”
Hayden said the top issue facing the court is the opioid epidemic, even if the court doesn’t see any felony drug cases.
“In District Court we’ll certainly have a lot of the other fallout from drug-addled people, which is domestic violence, driving under the influence and those types of things,” she said. “I do think the court needs to do something differently.”
She suggested the District Court look at using rehabilitative courts in these cases. She said the current system punishes people and while it holds them accountable, it also makes them angry.
“If that’s all you want, that’s great, but if we want to make a difference, if we want people to change, we have to do something different,” she said. “We can’t do the same thing and expect people to leave fully rehabilitated.”
Neupert, who currently serves as a pro-tem judge for District Court 1, said his experience has shown that alcohol — not opioids — is the top issue.
“The most serious cases are domestic violence cases,” he said. “What’s fueling most of those acts from what I’ve seen is not opioids, it has always been and continues to be alcohol abuse.”
He said there are alcohol treatment programs available, but it’s still a challenge. He said the court needs to maintain its 24/7 sobriety program, which requires people to check in twice a day to make sure they are not using alcohol.
Throughout the forum the candidates made jabs at each other. Neupert on several occasions said that as a district court judge he would have few conflicts, unlike both of his opponents who have experience with the Clallam Public Defender’s office.
Hayden shot back, saying “that’s because my opponent is representing corporations and not people.”
Neupert said he only has one client right now, which is the Peninsula Housing Authority, which is working on a housing redevelopment that includes facilities dedicated to homeless families.
Hayden also addressed language on Neupert’s campaign materials that says he was appointed the “acting presiding judge,” she said.
“Judges are only appointed by the governor,” Hayden said. “He was not appointed. Saying the presiding judge appointed him is a misuse of the language ‘appointing.’
“He is not the presiding judge. Mr. [Rick] Porter is the presiding judge. Saying he is appointed is incorrect.”
Neupert responded, reading a press release from Porter’s office that said he was appointed.
Porter left the country earlier this year on duty for the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He selected Neupert to fill in as judge pro-tem for those two months.
“Mr. Porter can say anything he wants to and the newspaper may print it, but it doesn’t make it correct,” Hayden said.
The geographic area covered by District Court 1 stretches west from Blyn to west of Joyce.
The position will pay $164,313 as of Sept. 1.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].