Seattle PI Gives Short Shift to Gregoire’s New Supreme Court Appointee

Today’s print edition of the Seattle PI that I received at my home relegated Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire’s appointment of Debra Stephens to the Washington State Supreme Court to a scant 131 words. It allotted it a space of 3 inches by 3.25 inches equal to 9.75 square inches.

Meanwhile the Seattle Times in a story entitled Spokane native appointed to state’s top court” wrote 972 words and gave the story some 84 square inches of space. What’s up Seattle PI?

Is it any wonder voters don’t know about candidates who are running for election or re-election to the Washington State Supreme Court when a major newspaper like the Seattle PI gives token only coverage to a new appointee to the Washington State Supreme Court.

The last reported entry on the PI’s webpage is an AP story by Dave Ammons dated 5:48 P.M. on Tuesday Dec 4, 2007. There is no in depth story or any story on today’s webpage this afternoon that I can find. It was only by tying in a search for Stephens that I found the AP story. So much for getting the current news.

Neil Modie in his Strange Bedfellows blog at the PI discusses some of the instant opposition to the appointment of Stephens by the right wing PAC, Justice for Washington, headed up by conservative former Senator Slade Gorton. They raised concern about Stephen’s past association with the Washington State Trial Lawyers. Wonder why? I added the following comments to Modie’s blog post that I think are important for people to know:

“Perhaps you should look at another connection as to why Justice for Washington would so quickly knee jerk oppose new Supreme Court Justice Stephens. Justice for Washington’s most recent C1PC registration form filed with the Public Disclosure Commission has listed as it’s treasurer Dana Childers.

Dana Childers is with the Liability Reform Coalition which represents the insurance industry. She was a chief spokesperson for the Reject R-67 campaign. R-67 was passed by the voters in November. The Washington State Trial Lawyers, although heavily outspent, won.

As you noted Stephens did appellate work for the Trial Lawyers Association. Justice for Washington is obviously a vehicle for the insurance industry to continue to assert itself in Washington politics. The insurance industry spent $11 million trying to defeat R-67.”

I think once again, even though Governor Gregoire tried to appoint someone without controversy, the right wing sees controversy in anyone not believing as they do, and that we can again expect to see huge amounts of money funneled into upcoming state Supreme Court races like this one. As we have previously written, the Washington State Legislature needs to apply the same donor limits that apply for candidates to what individuals can contribute directly to PAC’s because without limits, these so called independent contributions can quickly exceed donations to candidate’s committees.

The Legislature should also revisit public financing for Supreme Court races. For candidates to be truly freely elected, the influence of special interest money needs to be controlled so as not to overwhelm the voice of the candidates themselves. When candidates lose the ability to be heard because special interest money dominates the airwaves, we all lose.

Additional information on Washington State Supreme Court appointee Debra Stephens:

Debra Stephens will replace Justice Bobbe Bridge who has resigned from the court. Stephens was appointed by Governor Gregoire 8 months ago to a seat on the Washington Court of Appeals. She ran unopposed last November. As an appointee to the Washington State Supreme Court she will have to run for re-election in November 2008.

Stephens is a native of Spokane Washington and practiced law there before becoming a judge. She is reported to have made over 100 appearances before the State Supreme Court.
She graduated from Gonzaga Law School in 1973 and has taught constitutional law there.

According to Governor Gregoire’s press release,

Stephens has taught at Gonzaga since 1995, where she helped to develop a course on state constitutional law. She is a founding member of the Washington Appellate Lawyers Association and a contributing author to the Washington Appellate Practice Deskbook. She has received recognition from “Washington Law & Politics” as a “Super Lawyer” (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007) and as one of the “Top 50 Women Lawyers” (2005) and “Top Appellate Lawyers” (2005).

She has also taught as an adjunct professor at Gonzaga University School of Law since 1997.Stephens received her Bachelor of Arts degree, Magna Cum Laude with honors, and her Juris Doctorate, Summa Cum Laude, from Gonzaga University. She is married to Craig Stephens and they reside with their two children, Lindsey and Bob, in Spokane”

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