Election 2010: Talk with a WA State Supreme Court Candidate (Wiggins)

by: Posted on: October 21, 2010

Editor’s note:  As we all know, the 2010 election is just around the corner.  Below is a questionnaire for our Washington Supreme Court Candidates.  Only Barbara Madsen, Chief Justice, running unopposed for position 5 and Charlie Wiggins, running for position 6 agreed to respond.

Below are Charlie Wiggins’ responses to the questionnaire.

Click here to view Barbara Madsen’s responses.

Name: Charlie Wiggins

Position: 6

Current Occupation: Private Practice of Law

1. Personal Statement:

Public service has always been an important part of my life and I would like to serve the public full time as a Justice of the Supreme Court.  The importance of public service was impressed on me at an early age because I grew up in the military service as the son of a career Army warrant officer.  I’ve always tried use my legal career and talents to serve others by sharing my legal skills by teaching in over 100 seminars for lawyers and by providing pro bono services free of charge to those who cannot afford a lawyer.  I’ve also served on a wide variety of bar committees, attempting to improve the practice of law: Court Congestion and Improvement Committee (including a year as chair); the Court Rules and Procedures Committee (including two years as chair); the Disciplinary Hearing Officer Panel; the Disciplinary Review Board (including a year as chair); the Washington Chapter of the American Judicature Society (including two years as chapter president).  I’ve also served the community in a variety of ways detailed below in answer to Question 3.

At this point in my career, instead of serving clients one at a time, I would like to serve all the people of Washington as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

I believe that everyone should put their talents to their highest and best use, which for me would be to serve on the Supreme Court.  I have first-hand experience in the tasks that are the responsibility of the Supreme Court: (a) The Supreme Court reviews decisions of trial judges; I have tried cases as a lawyer and as a pro tem superior court judge in King County and in Jefferson County (Pt. Townsend).  (b) The Supreme court reviews decisions of the Court of Appeals.  I have served on the Court of Appeals in Tacoma and have argued literally hundreds of appeals in all areas of the law in all three divisions of the Court of Appeals. (c) The Supreme Court is responsible for adopting and improving the various court rules that govern the practice of law and the ethical rules that govern lawyers and judges.  I have served on the Court Rules and Procedures Committee, as discussed above, as well as several task forces charged with rewriting various sets of court rules. (d) The Court disciplines lawyers who have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and I have served on the Disciplinary Board and have served as a hearing officer in discipline cases.

I wish to leave to my children a better society, guided by the best principles and policies I can find in the law.  I believe I have the experience and wisdom to assist the Court in interpreting laws and the federal and state constitutions to improve society.

2. How do your educational and occupational experiences make you qualified to sit on the Washington State Supreme Court?

Education:  I graduated from Princeton University with a degree in philosophy magna cum laude in 1969, phi beta kappa.  While serving in the Army, I earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Hawaii.  I earned my law degree from Duke Law School in 1976, and was selected for the Order of the Coif.  As a lawyer, I have taught in many seminars, speaking in over 100 different seminars on diverse topics, and for about 8 or 9 years taught trial practice and constitutional law in the bar review course offered by Bar Review Associates.

I have experience in every thing the Court does.

The Court reviews decisions of trial judges; I have tried cases as a lawyer and as a pro tem superior court judge.

The Court reviews decisions of the Court of Appeals; I have handled literally hundreds of appeals in every area of the law, and I have been a Court of Appeals judge.

The Court governs all rules of procedure, ethics and evidence; I have served many years on State Bar Association Committees that draft these rules, both as a committee member and as the chair.  I have also served on several Supreme Court task forces working on rules governing Death Penalty appeals, local rules of practice, and rules governing hearings for lawyers accused of unethical conduct.

The Court is responsible for lawyer ethics and discipline; I serve as a hearing officer in lawyer discipline hearings, as a member and chair of the Disciplinary board that recommends discipline to the Supreme Court, and have extensive experience in working on the rules for these proceedings.

I have also worked to improve public understanding and participation in judicial elections as the President of the Washington State Chapter of the American Judicature Society and a member of the steering committee of the Judicial Selection Coalition, a loose confederation of bar associations and good government groups.

3. What do you believe to be the most challenging question confronting Washington’s Supreme Court (not concerning agriculture or the environment)?

The most difficult challenge facing the Court is adequately funding our courts and insuring adequate access to the courts for persons of moderate and limited financial means.  The state shifts a great deal of the burden of financing the courts to the counties, which are under enormous financial pressure in the current economic environment.  The Court has worked to have the legislature provide better state support for the courts, but those efforts require constant attention and pressure.

It is also increasingly difficult for persons of moderate means to obtain adequate legal representation.  I have represented some clients on a pro bono basis throughout my career, including handling appeals.  I also strongly support the pro bono efforts of my partner and associate.  For example, I represented an African-American woman who had lived with her husband in a home for many years, paying her husband’s parents to purchase the home from them.  When the husband filed to dissolve the marriage, he and his parents claimed that he and my client had only been renting the house from his parents.  I successfully appealed a summary judgment dismissing her claim of ownership.  In another appeal I represented a schoolteacher seeking to enforce her ex-husband’s obligations to help pay for their children’s college educations.  I estimate I devoted 60-100 hours on each of these appeals.  In 2008 and 2009, my pro bono efforts consisted of writing and filing two amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court in Caperton v. Massey.  I estimate this consumed 100-200 hours.

I have also volunteered at the pro bono legal clinic at the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle.  Through the clinic, I have represented about half a dozen clients in dissolving their marriages.  Although these were uncontested, they did present their challenges.  One client had not seen his wife, who lived in Australia, for over 15 years.  Two women had husbands in prison, one in Washington and one in New York.  I probably spent 10-12 hours on each case.

My partner and I have also financially supported the King County Bar Foundation and Kitsap Legal Services.  After the January 2010 Kitsap County Bar Association annual dinner and fund raiser for Kitsap Legal Services, KLS paralegal Lori Denton wrote to me, “I also want to thank you personally for your consistent support of our office.  It is because people such as you and Mr. Masters, and others like you that we are blessed enough to still be around to assist the low income people of Kitsap County.”

4. What do you believe to be most challenging question concerning agriculture or the environment in Washington?

Water and water rights have always been key issues for our Court, and I believe they will only become more and more important in the future.

5. Favorite U.S. Supreme Court case, why?

I would have to choose Brown v. Board of Education for several reasons.  First, the decision was a hugely important and influential case, laying the foundation for the eventual dismantling of de jure segregation in this country.  Second, it was courageous.  The members of the Court had to have known that they would be subject to enormous criticism, even personal insults, for this major decision.  Third, the decision reversed an earlier decision that “separate but equal” was an adequate interpretation of the equal protection clause.  Fourth, the treatment of African-Americans in this country was truly a stain on our national character, and this decision helped to change that.  Finally, the members of the Court were able to put aside their individual differences and come to a unanimous decision, demonstrating the importance of collegiality in an appellate court.

6. Scientific evidence has proven to be quite useful in many court cases, as we can see through the help DNA testing offers in identifying guilty suspects.  But like everything else, the use of scientific evidence in the courtroom can be abused.  Let’s say someone is pumping a non-regulated substance into a stream that is home to an endangered fish.  A judge might request that because the technology is out there, a scientific study, that could take years to complete, should be performed before the substance is deemed harmful to the fish.  As new technologies become available to aid the gathering of evidence, how do you view the positives and negatives of updating rules of evidence in accordance with these emerging technologies?

Evidence rules incorporate important policies about the reliability of particular types of evidence and the requirements for the admission of evidence.  These principles and policies have evolved over centuries of common law.  They must continually be updated to deal with new situations and advances in technology.  At the same time, the court must be mindful of the reasons for these policies and work to preserve the basic principles while adapting them to scientific advances.

7. The importance of the impartial judge has persisted throughout American history.  Traditionally the judiciary has applied this impartiality to interpret the constitution, written law and whether or not the legislative and executive branches adhere to them.  However, there are times when judges are put in a position to rule that the inaction of the other two branches, is unconstitutional or jeopardizes the public well being.  It is hard to say if such acts by the judiciary lie under its impartial powers.  The courts ability to enact law (correct wrongs permitted by the inaction of the other branches) surely has its place, but its abuse can easily slip into partiality. Where do you strike a balance between your duty to remain impartial and your duty to address issues that concern the public interest but remain unaddressed by the legislature and executive?

One difference between the judiciary and the other two branches of government is that the judiciary cannot take the initiative and decide what problems or issues the court will address.  Judges must resolve cases and controversies brought before them by parties to a lawsuit.  This has two important consequences for this question.  First, the court cannot decide to tackle a particular problem even though the other two branches have done nothing to resolve the problem.  Second, the court has a responsibility to resolve cases for the parties who come before the court.  In other words, even if the legislature has acted on a particular issue, if the issue is part of a case before the court, the court must act on it.  Example: Two people live together in a marriage-like relationship in a committed intimate relationship but they do not marry.  They acquire property together.  When their relationship ends, how is the property to be divided?  The legislature has not provided guidance for this problem.  So the Court was forced to develop the doctrine of the “meretricious relationship,” also known as a “committed intimate relationship.”  The Court didn’t develop this doctrine in the abstract, but in the context of specific, concrete cases.

3 Responses to “Election 2010: Talk with a WA State Supreme Court Candidate (Wiggins)”

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