Race for Island County Superior Court justice to be decided in primary

There’s a rare contested race for Island County Superior Court, and the winner will be determined in the

Aug. 19 primary.

Coupeville attorney Craig Platt is challenging three-term incumbent judge Vickie Churchill of Oak Harbor for Position 2. Churchill has been on the bench for 12 years. It’s the first time she has been opposed since her election in 1996.

Platt, 51, is a longtime defense attorney, who has appeared many times in Churchill’s courtroom, often as a public defender. He said he has thought about running for 16 years.

“It’s an honor to serve the public,” he said. “I actually like the law.”

He said that the ages of his children and the end of his public-defender contract with the county make this the perfect time to run. If elected, he said he’ll work to streamline the court system to make it more user-friendly, and just plain “friendly.”

Platt said he’s particularly concerned with procedures such as security and hearing and trial scheduling, which he said often create congestion on busy days at the courthouse. He said the solution may be as simple as spreading out and simplifying the process.

“I believe that the improvements I’m recommending can be implemented easily and quickly with no cost to the taxpayers, and they would make such a huge difference,” Platt said. “My goal is to make sure that the attitude of cheerful service permeates the entire system.”

“I want people to come away from court feeling that justice was done and that they were treated fairly and with respect, even when they don’t prevail,” he added.

“We have a friendly courthouse now,” Churchill responded, pointing to “the policies and procedures we have put in place for disabled persons and those who need an interpreter. We have a court facilitator program to provide assistance to low-income people who need help navigating the courts. We have made tremendous improvements to the law library.”

“If my opponent has any concerns with staff, he needs to contact the county clerk,” she added. “All of them have been trained to be courteous and professional, even under extreme provocation.”

Experience appears to be an important element in the campaign.

Churchill, 61, a resident of Island County since 1972, is a graduate of the University of Missouri and Seattle University law school. She was in private practice for 10 years before being elected to the court.

“Look at my record over the past

12 years, and my record as a private attorney,” she said. “You don’t have to wonder as to what my courtroom demeanor would be. My record speaks for me.”

She said she has helped to make several improvements, including a juvenile detention center; separate drug courts for juveniles, adults and families; assistance for indigent civil litigants; a community accountability board; mandatory parenting classes; and mediation in family law cases.

Churchill said that because of changes to the juvenile court system, juvenile crime in Island County is down 46 percent, compared to the statewide average of 36 percent.

She said her future goals include the establishment of teen courts, review of guardianship cases, improvements in technology, courthouse expansion and the addition of a third judge in the next five to 10 years.

“I am an experienced trial judge who doesn’t let my ego get in my way,” Churchill said. “I have been praised by my colleague, Judge Hancock; by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who has said that I am one of the finest judges in the state of Washington; and by 126 judges throughout the state who know and respect me and have sent me written endorsements.”

Platt, a graduate of the University of Illinois and Stanford University law school, is a partner with his wife in the law firm Platt and Buescher in Coupeville.

He said his “front of the house” experience as an attorney in court would help him close what he calls a “chasm” that has developed between the judges and the rest of the courthouse. He said that if elected, he would routinely “come in the front door” to keep track of how the court is functioning and to look for ways to improve the process.

He also said he would encourage better technology, promote community outreach to schools and other places by judges and court staff, create a teen court, encourage the addition of law clerks and promote the use of volunteers, “an untapped source of free support.”

Platt said he’s more than just a defense attorney.

“I cut my teeth on civil law,” he said, adding that he also was a tough prosecutor when he was working on the island of Saipan in the Marianas. He has been a defense attorney in Island County since 1990.

Churchill said that of all the filings in Superior Court, “criminal cases account for only about 13 percent; the rest are civil and family law cases, with juvenile and dependency cases making up the remainder.”

Platt acknowledged that his vigorous defense of clients in high-profile cases such as in the recent Randi Shelton trial involving a fatal DUI crash, may color voter perception of him, but he said it shouldn’t.

“That was my role,” he said. “In a trial, everyone has a role: judge, jury, prosecutor, defender. I approach the role I have aggressively.”

“I don’t play a role,” Churchill responded, adding that she decides cases fairly and holds offenders accountable while striving to respect the dignity of everyone involved.

Platt points out that several former defense attorneys have made effective judges. Even

John Adams, who helped frame the Constitution and insisted upon an independent judiciary, was a defense attorney, Platt said.

“Patience and the ability to communicate clearly - that’s my strength,” he said. “When you’ve seen everything and heard everything, you know how to deal with things. I have a really good idea about people.”

Churchill said, “I am proud to have served Island County. I hope voters are proud of the job I have done.”

Judge Alan Hancock is running unopposed for Position 1.

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