Sitting judge, incumbent favored in Clallam County Bar poll

PORT ANGELES — Lawyers favored a sitting jurist and an incumbent office-holder in the recent Clallam County Bar Association anonymous survey of candidates for District Court 2 judge and county prosecuting attorney, positions up for grabs in the Nov. 6 general election.

More than half the lawyers who received the surveys responded to the county Bar Poll.

They gave incumbent Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols higher ratings in the survey’s four categories than challenger Selinda Barkhuis, a former county treasurer.

The attorneys similarly gave current county Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer, who would resign his position if elected, a clean sweep for the Port Angeles-West End District Court 2 judge position also being sought by Forks lawyer John Black.

The candidates also gave 10-minutes presentations to bar association members during organization meetings before attorneys answered the written survey.

“It’s of value to the public because it’s the legal community who practices regularly with these attorneys and is familiar with them giving their opinion on whether the candidates are qualified for the position,” bar association President Ariel Speser said Thursday.

Ballots for the election must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 6, or must be received in county drop-boxes or at the county courthouse by 8 p.m. Nov. 6.

As of Thursday, 12.5 percent of more than 52,500 eligible voters in Clallam County had cast ballots, compared to 22 percent of 25,220 voters in Jefferson County.

The Clallam County prosecuting attorney race is countywide.

The District Court 2 judge race covers west of Lake Crescent to Neah Bay.

Forty-six of the 87 surveys that were distributed were completed for the prosecuting attorney position, and 47 of the 87 were completed for the judicial position.

The candidates were rated for judgment-objectivity, demeanor-temperament, competence-experience and overall performance.

They received 1 point for unqualified, 2 for qualified, 3 for well qualified and 4 for exceptionally well qualified.

The score for each candidate in each category is the average total number of points scored by lawyers who responded to that category.

For judge ratings, the overall performance rating for Rohrer was 3.13, Black 2.38; competence-experience, Rohrer 3.38, Black 2.32; judgment-objectivity, Rohrer 3.06, Black 2.38; demeanor-temperament, Rohrer 2.98, Black 2.38.

For prosecuting attorney ratings, the overall performance score for Nichols was 2.24, Barkhuis 1.96; competence-experience 2.28, Barkhuis 2.07; judgment-objectivity, Nichols 2.17, Barkhuis 1.91; demeanor-temperament, Nichols 2.26, Barkhuis 1.89.

“I’m pleased to see the bar association recommended me above my challenger in every single category,” Nichols, a Republican, said this week.

“It’s a nice vote of confidence to receive, especially given that we are in the midst of the campaign season.”

Nichols’ overall performance score — which was between qualified and well-qualified — “indicates I’m qualified to operate as the county’s prosecutor,” he said.

Barkhuis, a lawyer-writer who is not a practicing attorney, was elected treasurer in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 before resigning her position in 2017, citing “health issues resulting from work-related stress.”

“I am pleased that the local bar considers me qualified for the position,” Barkhuis, who scored between unqualified and qualified at 1.96 in overall performance, said in an email.

Barkhuis, who listed no party preference when registering as a candidate, said she scored higher than Nichols did four years ago.

As a county hearings examiner and former chief deputy prosecuting attorney, Nichols scored 1.67 in overall performance in the 2014 bar poll compared to appointed Prosecuting Attorney William Payne’s 3.13.

Nichols defeated Payne 52 percent to 48 percent in that general election.

Rohrer noted he bested Black in every category for the nonpartisan, part-time District 2 position.

Rohrer served 10 years in the District Court 2 judge position before resigning in 2012 after being elected to the Superior Court post he now holds. Rohrer was re-elected in 2016.

“I always think the bar polls are interesting, and local lawyers are clearly in a good position to know who is the most qualified judicial candidate,” he said.

“Being recognized by them as being well qualified and scoring higher than my opponent gives my neighbors out on the West End one more reason to vote Rohrer,” said Rohrer, who scored 3.13 in overall performance.

Black, given a 2.38 rating of qualified in the category of overall performance, said he was not surprised by the survey results.

“Anyone who’s been a judge that long is going to score better as a potential judge that someone who hasn’t been,” Black said.

Black added that he is a pro-tem judge for Port Angeles-area District Court 1 Judge Rick Porter.

Speser cautioned that the poll results reflect a single opinion, from lawyers.

“As always, this rating measure is not exhaustive and certainly it’s one of many measures the candidates participate in, so it should not be viewed as a be-all and end-all,” she said.

“They should also do their own independent research as well.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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