PORT ANGELES — Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour will resign his position June 1, seven months before his term expires.
“Although I had originally intended to complete my term, I have decided that I do not want to spend another summer indoors and since I will be pushing 70, it’s the best time for me to start pursuing things I want to do while I can still do them,” Coughenour said Monday in a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee.
Coughenour, who had not intended to run for re-election, will be fully vested in his judicial pension June 1 after five years in office.
He will turn 69 Nov. 10.
“I was going to be gone at the end of 2020 anyway, and I’m just leaving a few months early,” he said Wednesday in an interview.
“I really don’t want to do it beyond the time I can receive my pension.”
Tip Wonhoff, Inslee’s deputy general counsel, said Wednesday that Inlsee will select Coughenour’s replacement “hopefully by April or earlier.”
The judgeship and the county’s two other Superior Court positions, held by Lauren Erickson and Brent Basden, both appointed by Inslee, will be up for grabs in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.
They are running unopposed on the Nov. 5 general election ballot for one-year unexpired terms.
When then-Superior Court Judge Chris Melly, who was replaced by Basden, announced his impending resignation in 2018 two years before his term expired, Coughenour said in an interview that he would finish out his term.
“I’m not going to bail out before my term ends unless something major happens or something physical,” Coughenour told Peninsula Daily News on July 3, 2018.
He said Wednesday that nothing major or physical changed his mind.
“There’s nothing specific I’d want to talk about, there’s nothing specific or anything other than I’ll be pushing 70 years old at that time and I’m done,” Coughenour said.
“I’d rather spend time hiking around the Peninsula instead of sitting inside all summer.
“I have a farm I want to run and a granddaughter I want to spend time with.”
He said whomever Inslee selects will have to file to run for the office shortly after being chosen.
Filing week for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election will begin May 11.
Since 2014, Inslee, a Democrat who took office in January 2013, has appointed successors to Superior Court judges Brooke Taylor, George L. Wood, Chris Melly and Erik Rohrer, all of whom resigned before the end of their terms.
Coughenour does not believe the newly appointed judge, by already holding the office, will have an advantage over anyone else who wants to run for the position.
“The fact is, they will have to announce before they even start the job, and they will be at a disadvantage because they will have to be doing the job while running for election, just like me,” Coughenour said.
“I don’t think that’s much of an incumbency that would give that much of an advantage.”
Coughenour defeated current District Court 1 Judge Dave Neupert in 2016 after being appointed by Inslee to replace Wood.
“It was hard for me to run for election while I was doing the job against someone who was able to go out and doorbell every day,” Coughenour said.
Coughenour said he was announcing his resignation several months ahead of time to give Inslee’s staff the time to interview candidates.
“It’s not like I’m done,” he said.
Wonhoff said Inslee has appointed more than half the Superior Court judges who are serving statewide.
“It’s nothing rare on the Clallam County bench,” he said.
Wonhoff said his office already has a pool of candidates who have sought recent Superior Court appointments who may be interested in seeking Coughenour’s position.
Prior candidates have included Neupert, Michele Devlin and Steven Johnson from the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Harry Gasnick of Clallam Public Defender, and Lisa Dublin, Suzanne Hayden, Cathy Marshall, Carol Mortenson and Steve Robins.
“I expect that at least some of the individuals on this list may be interested in pursuing this upcoming 2020 appointment, too,” Wonhoff said in an email.
Wonhoff and Inslee’s general counsel, Kathryn Leathers, will consult Coughenour, Basden and Erickson, as well as the prosecuting attorney’s office, on a successor, Wonhoff said in an interview.
“We’ll post the notice of the vacancy on our website and make that announcement and probably advise any past applicants to let us know if they want to renew their interest in this,” he said.
It’s expected the appointee will run for election that November.
“We want to appoint people who are interested in keeping the job,” Wonhoff said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].