A group of wealthy Washingtonians has released a second soft-on-crime attack on Supreme Court Justice Charlie Wiggins. The TV ad debuted Wednesday — one day after a pair of high-profile Wiggins supporters denounced the attacks.
The new TV ad against Wiggins hits him again for a decision he authored earlier this year in a search and seizure case. Wiggins sided with a man who was convicted of possession of child pornography. The ad goes on to tell viewers the man was recently re-arrested in a sex sting involving a detective posing as a teenage girl.
The ad is the work of Judicial Integrity Washington, a political action committee funded by southwest Washington billionaire Ken Fisher, Mariners owner John Stanton and Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman’s Kemper Holdings.
The man behind the PAC is former Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, who says Washington’s Supreme Court lacks balance. Tom points to recent court decisions striking down voter-approved charter schools and a two-thirds requirement for tax hikes as motivation for efforts to unseat an incumbent justice like Wiggins.
But he said focusing instead on a criminal case works best in a short television ad.
“We’re able to tell the story of how his poor judgment had really bad consequences in this case,” Tom said.
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But a group of prominent Wiggins supporters is asking that the ads be taken down. Former U.S. Attorney John McKay and former Chief Justice Gerry Alexander are among those who sent a letter to Tom and his funders. They say the soft-on-crime approach “borrows tactics from some of [the] country’s ugliest political moments.”
They also warned the ads “have the serious potential to produce a chilling effect on the state’s judiciary.”
Tom dismissed the criticism and noted that four of Wiggin’s colleagues on the court disagreed with his opinion in the case known as State of Washington v. Michael Allen Budd.
“It was a 5-4 decision,” Tom said. “If he had voted the other way this predator wouldn’t have been on the street and he wouldn’t have been caught for solicitation.”
For his part, Wiggins said he was voting to uphold the right of privacy in the home.
“What I held in that case was that proper warning was not given when police asked to search a home without a warrant,” he said. “That’s what this case is all about.”
Wiggins said he stands by his ruling in the Budd case and calls the ads against him “irresponsible.”
“To single that one case out and to make it look like that’s a consistent pattern that I’m unlocking the jailhouse doors and freeing criminals is completely misleading,” Wiggins said.
Research suggests the impact of these soft-on-crime attacks on Wiggins could extend beyond the outcome of the November election. A study by a two law professors at Emory University in Atlanta found these types of ads can make state Supreme Court justices less likely to decide in favor of criminal defendants.
“As more TV ads like this run, we find the outcomes in criminal cases are less and less likely to favor the criminal,” said Emory’s Joanna Shepherd who studied judicial elections and decisions from 2008 to 2013. That study was funded by the liberal American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.
Another group of wealthy Washingtonians led by Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Bill Gates and Steve and Connie Ballmer has funded a second PAC called Citizens for Working Courts that launched an ad Wednesday in support of Wiggins opponent, Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Dave Larson.
Combined the two PACs have raised more than $1 million, eclipsing the $335,648 combined that Wiggins and Larson have raised for their own elections.
On the other side, unionized teachers and trial lawyers in Washington have funded a PAC called Know Your Judicial Ballot that has raised nearly $291,000 to support Wiggins and fellow incumbent justices Mary Yu and Barbara Madsen — all three sitting justices are up for re-election this year.
Large independent expenditure campaigns are nothing new in Washington Supreme Court races. In 2006, liberal and conservative interests spent a combined nearly $2.2 million in ads supporting and opposing judicial candidates.
In 2010, $440,000 was spent on independent expenditures with more than half of that money coming from unions to fund attacks prior to the August primary on then-Justice Jim Johnson who was viewed as a conservative voice on the court. Johnson was re-elected, however he stepped down from the court in 2014 because of health issues.