PORT ANGELES — Three lawyers vying for Clallam County’s Port Angeles-area District Court 1 judge position wrestled with the court’s uncertain financial future and sought to define their worthiness to a business group on Tuesday with the Aug. 7 primary barely two months away.
Candidates Suzanne Hayden, Pam Lindquist and Dave Neupert touted their legal experience during a 70-minute voters forum at the Port Angeles Business Association’s breakfast meeting.
The top two primary vote-getters seeking the nonpartisan position will be in the Nov. 6 general election.
The general election winner will succeed four-term incumbent Rick Porter.
Porter, who is not running for re-election and whose pay-or-appear program was criticized throughout his tenure as hurting indigent defendants, chose Neupert to fill in as judge pro-tem during Porter’s recent 60-day stint with the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Porter has thrown his support behind Neupert.
“I have the experience and the commitment and community involvement that makes me the best candidate for the job right now,” said Neupert, 63, a former attorney at Platt Irwin Law Firm and current legal counsel for the Peninsula Housing Authority.
Neupert represented clients in mostly civil cases while at Platt Irwin from 1995-2015 and presented cases in county district and superior courts.
He said he would consider mitigating, with so-called Hargrove funds, an estimated $200,000 to $400,000 district court funding gap created by a new state law that prevents fines and court costs from being imposed on indigent defendants.
Named for retired 24th District state Sen. Jim Hargrove, the fund is fueled by a one-tenth-of-1 percent sales tax that covers the cost incurred by local jurisdictions for mental health, substance abuse treatment and court treatment programs.
Shifting Hargrove funds now dedicated to the juvenile court system “could assist in maintaining services and expanding services,” Neupert said.
Hayden, 61, was a criminal defense attorney with Clallam Public Defender for 23 years in county district and superior courts and for the past 16 years has been a juvenile court lawyer.
Hayden, whose husband John Hayden works for Clallam Public Defender, called for “a common-sense approach” to providing justice for indigent defendants, who comprise an estimated 90 percent of district court clients, she said.
Community service work, “needs to be meaningful to the person,” said Hayden, who would be the first elected female District Court 1 judge.
“If they are going and washing police cars, that’s not teaching them anything as far as lifting themselves up by the bootstraps,” she said, calling for “meaningful community service.”
Hayden, endorsed by Port Angeles attorney Karen Unger, hearkened to the days of former District Court 1 Judge John Doherty, who was defeated by Porter in 2002 for the position Porter has held since then.
In Doherty’s days, “all the parties sat together and said, ‘This is the rule, what can we do to work together, what can we do to streamline the process,’ ” Hayden said.
“I want to go back to that collegiality.”
Lindquist said when she filed for the position that she has represented clients in thousands of criminal and civil district court cases.
A court bill of $3,000 to an indigent defendant is meaningless if the person can’t pay it back, said Lindquist, who has not practiced law for about seven months.
The court can hold defendants more accountable in “more meaningful” ways through community service, said Lindquist, who will be 51 on Nov. 6.
Even by cleaning garbage in the streets, district court offenders “can be paying back the community,” she said.
“We can steer them to get the services, but that’s all we can do,” she added.
The candidates were asked to describe their demeanors and how they would handle their caseloads, which would consist of misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.
The position will pay $164,313 as of Sept. 1.
Lindquist caller herself a problem solver.
“I like to see where the issue is and try to solve it. I like the fast pace and like to talk and listen to people to problem-solve effectively,” she said.
Hayden stressed “making sure there are consequences” for crimes, said she would be fair and reasonable, and referred to her college degree in Japan studies.
“I want to be able to use that … style I learned in Japan, which is bottom up not top down, which is what I am talking about when I said everyone [should be] at the table,” Hayden said.
Neupert, who repeatedly referred to his ongoing presence on the District Court 1 bench — he was headed to District Court following the breakfast meeting — said he views all district court defendants as individuals and that he uses his experience in court and in life to make judicial decisions.
“I’m Dave Neupert and not someone else,” he said.
He doesn’t base his decisions “on something I brought into court with me,” Neupert said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].