The 2021 election for Seattle’s City Attorney presents voters with an unpalatable decision worthy of comment. On the one hand, candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy has been a practicing attorney for only five years. As an officer of the court, Thomas-Kennedy has posted numerous comments on social media platforms that arguably violate the Washington Rules of Professional Conduct, the ethical standards governing attorneys’ behavior. She has endorsed jury nullification. Thirty former Washington judges along with former Washington Democratic Governors Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire, who both are attorneys, have endorsed Thomas-Kennedy’s opponent, Ann Davidson. On the other hand, Davidson’s conservative ties, as a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Seattle City Council in 2019 and for Washington Lieutenant Governor in 2020, and who recorded a video for a national pro-Donald Trump campaign, tend to make many Seattle voters feel uncomfortable.
State Senator Jamie Pederson, a Democrat from Seattle, noted, “I think it is hugely problematic for us to have a city attorney that thinks property destruction is a ‘moral imperative’ and who has announced she wants to dismantle the criminal division of the city attorney’s office. I will quickly follow that by saying it is hugely problematic to have someone, who in the middle of 2020 with everything that was going on with Donald Trump, felt comfortable filing for office and saying she preferred the Republican Party.”
When voting for judges, thankfully, voters who are not attorneys have an opportunity to make fully informed choices by reviewing independent evaluations on a prospective candidate’s ability and performance, such as the King County Bar Association’s Judicial Candidate Evaluation Ratings. But with the Seattle City Attorney’s race, no such opportunities exist. Voters instead must wade their way through candidate statements, endorsements, and various media accounts in making their decision.
On the November 2nd election ballot, Seattle voters are forced to choose between these two candidates. Paraphrasing David Byrne singing my favorite Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime,” how did we get here? Is this really the best way for Seattle – or any city – to select its City Attorney? In many other cities, the City Attorney is either appointed by the city council or by the city’s chief executive. Seattle would be much better served under any of these three scenarios: (1) the Seattle City Council selects the Seattle City Attorney; (2) the Seattle Mayor selects the Seattle City Attorney; (3) Seattle voters continue to select the Seattle City Attorney, but an independent commission consisting at least in part of retired judges and practicing attorneys is formed to evaluate the candidates in the initial primary process and provide voters with necessary information as to the candidates’ qualifications and skills. Hopefully, the controversies in this election will, ultimately, create a groundswell for change along these lines.
But, that is little consolation to 2021 Seattle voters. As Seattle voters make our choice, this voting adage proves apt: “Voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transportation. You’re not waiting for ‘the one’ who’s absolutely perfect: you’re getting the bus, and if there isn’t one to your destination, you don’t not travel – you take the one going closest.”
This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.