PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners could choose a successor to Forks-area District Court Judge Erik Rohrer on Monday after they meet in executive session, two months before the position becomes vacant, they said last week.
Commissioners Randy Johnson and Bill Peach interviewed lawyers William Payne, Lisa Dublin, Bruce Hanify and Natalie Ghayoumi in that order for about 30 minutes each during a scheduled four-hour block of recorded sessions last Monday, Nov. 23.
Commission Chair Mark Ozias, who participated in a county canvassing board meeting during the interviews, said he would listen to the recording.
Johnson, Peach and Ozias will select a replacement for Rohrer, who is resigning from the three-days-a-week position effective Feb. 1 with two years left on his term. The job pays more than $98,000 a year.
None of the applicants live in the Forks District Court 2 geographic area, which is from the western shore of Lake Crescent to Neah Bay.
The judge must be a registered voter of the District Court 2 district and fulfill the voter residency requirements before being appointed to the position, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Stanley said.
“It needs to be a permanent address,” she said.
Peach, who represents Port Angeles-West End District 3, said commissioners want to make a decision as soon as possible to give the chosen applicant time to move.
Payne, who has a Sequim law practice, is a former Clallam County deputy prosecuting attorney and was the appointed Clallam County prosecuting attorney from January-November 2014. He is a former assistant state attorney general.
“I just like the small-town feel of Forks,” he said during his interview. “I think I bring to the table all of my experience to help the citizens of Forks.”
Dublin, a Clallam County Superior Court candidate in the Nov. 3 election, is the division chief administrative law judge with the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings and has served as a judge pro tem in King County District Court and Issaquah Municipal Court.
The Sequim resident said her biggest strength is her experience at the Office of Administrative Hearings.
“I’ve become very comfortable learning all areas of the law,” she said. “That strength is unique.”
Hanify is a Longview lawyer who grew up in Forks and is a former deputy prosecuting attorney who supported John Black against Rohrer in the 2018 election.
“From what I’ve seen as a prosecuting and defense attorney, having to pay attention to the underlying causes of criminal behavior, understanding how all these things work, it would be a great source of inspiration if I could apply that knowledge to my home town, my home community,” Hanify said.
Ghayoumi, a Tacoma-area resident specializing in family law, criminal defense and immigration, was born in Iran and moved to the U.S. when she was 16.
The most crucial skill a judge can have is “communication and really listening and addressing both sides impartially,” Ghayoumi said.
“The judges I looked up to had the patience and allowed me to express myself and the other side to express themselves.”
Johnson and Peach asked each applicant similar questions that included addressing their strengths and weaknesses, citing changes they would make and how they saw themselves working with West End tribes.
Commissioners will discuss the interviews during their executive session before considering an appointment, Ozias said.
“I would expect to take action Monday but certainly I can’t guarantee it, and that would be dependent on the conversation.”
In a text message Friday, Ozias lauded all four applicants.
“I look forward to hearing the other commissioners’ thoughts, especially Commissioner Bill Peach, given his representation of the West End,” Ozias texted.
Before the interviews, Stanley urged the commissioners to reveal any potential conflicts of interest in selecting judge.
Peach endorsed Dublin in her recent losing campaign against incumbent Superior Court Judge Lauren Erickson.
Peach, a Republican, said his main issue was Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee appointing Clallam’s superior court judges, including Erickson in 2019. Judges Brent Basden and Simon Barnhart also were appointed.
“The primary reason is philosophical as to the appointment of superior court judges rather than have them elected,” he said, adding he met with Dublin and felt she was qualified for the position.
Peach’s support of Dublin “was not specific to Erickson,” Peach added.
“I really don’t appreciate this wink-wink, nod-nod of superior court judges stepping down a year before the end of their term, and that allows the governor to make a decision and not serve to the end of their term,” Peach said.
Erickson successfully ran unopposed in 2019 to fill Rohrer’s unexpired term before winning a full four-year term in November.
The applications were reviewed by a screening committee composed of Forks Mayor Tim Fletcher, former District Court 2 Administrator Glenna Pitt, Quileute Tribe Attorney Chelsea Sayles, Makah Tribe General Manager Vincent Cooke, county Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Brian King, Port Angeles-area District Court 1 Judge Dave Neupert, and county Human Resources Department representative Tammy Sullenger.
Fletcher submitted proposed questions to the commissioners, Forks City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck said.
Committee members were to recommend up to three candidates for the commissioners’ consideration, according to a Nov. 16 email from Sullenger to committee members.
King, who grew up in Forks, said the committee members did not meet as a group or interview applicants, possibly because of the pandemic.
With just four applicants, it may not have made sense to submit three to the commissioners, he added.
Johnson said there also were scheduling conflicts.
The interviews are available on the county website atwww.clallam.net by going to the commissioners’ meetings, agendas and minutes page and are accessible under miscellaneous meeting recordings.
Johnson and Peach interviewed the applicants via BlueJeans Video Conferencing transmitted to the commissioners courthouse hearing room.
They were video streamed to the public with a distorted audio transmission over the county’s Granicus Video system.
Ozias acknowledged the recordings contained “some interference.”
County Administrator Rich Sill would not make the applications public under the state Public Records Act provision that allows government officials to exempt job applications from disclosure.
The law does not bar disclosure if private information is deleted, but it allows them to make a choice, according to the nonprofit Municipal Research and Services Center.
The Peninsula Daily News submitted a public records request Friday for the applications.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]