Linde heading toward win in San Juan County Superior Court race

Turns out that Gov. Christine Gregoire may have had a crystal ball after all.

Local voters on Tuesday backed the governor's judicial appointment by making a clear choice as to who will serve as San Juan County's first-ever elected Superior Court judge.

As of 8:17 p.m., with 4,694 ballots counted, Judge John Linde had received 2,831 votes, or 63.27 percent of ballots cast in Tuesday's primary election. It would appear an insurmountable lead for his sole opponent, Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord, to overcome without a major shift in the trend of initial election results.

Gaylord had 1,643 votes, or 36.7 percent. An estimated 2,500 ballots have yet to be counted.

It was a historic race between two campaign heavyweights. Neither Gaylord or Linde had ever failed in a run for a local office. Gaylord, a Orcas Island resident, entered the race with four consecutive victories running for county prosecutor; Linde, of Friday Harbor, served 21 years as District Court judge, winning five straight elections.

With Linde on the bench, however, Gaylord said that he campaigned as if he were the underdog.

"I've always felt that if you're running against someone who's already got the job, that you're behind from the beginning," he said. "That's the way I went into this campaign, like I'm down two touchdowns and have to come from behind."

Over the course of the campaign, Gaylord drew endorsements from state Reps. Jeff Morris and Dave Quall, state Sen. Harriet Spanel and former U.S. Attorney John McKay. He was rated "exceptionally well qualified" by three state bar associations and "extremely well qualified" by two others. But it wasn't enough.

Linde had the governor as honorary co-chairwoman of his campaign. He also had the support of Superior Court judges Vickie Churchill and Alan Hancock, as well as numerous other judges from throughout the region.

With victory in hand, Linde, who traded a long-standing private practice for the judicial appointment, earns four years as judge in the county's newly-created judicial district. The district was established after Island and San Juan counties agreed to end a long-standing relationship of sharing Superior Court judges.

Superior Court judges preside over cases involving felony crimes, civil complaints and land-use disputes, family law; such as divorce, parental custody and paternity, juvenile court and probate and estate matters.

Superior Court judges will earn $148,832 a year beginning Sept. 1. The state pays half that salary and counties pay the balance. Court operations, however, are financed mostly at the local level and decisions on spending and annual budgets remain largely in the hands of -- in the case of San Juan's -- the County Council.

Both candidates vowed to press for a greater share of county funds to pay for improvements to the fledgling court. However, Gaylord noted the county could pursue state grants that are perennially available to courts to offset much of the cost of upgrading the court's antiquated equipment and electronics.

Linde stressed a need for video links between the court and Orcas and Lopez islands to foster greater participation in truancy issues for parents and school officials of those two islands. He advocates hiring an employee to replace the court administrator whose post vanished when San Juan and Island counties went their separate ways.

"I would like to see one staff person added to the office of the Superior Court. That person would need to do the multitude of tasks required to maintain the smooth operation of the court," Linde said. "The judge alone cannot do it all and what is needed is beyond the scope of what the county clerk is elected to do."

The first-ever campaign for Superior Court judge may well be remembered for the uproar over each candidates' failure to list a disciplinary action when under consideration for the gubernatorial appointment. Despite the omission, the governor never wavered in her support for Linde.

Evidently, local voters feel the same.

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