Related topics

Nearly Invisible Candidate Upsets Washington State Supreme Court Justice With

September 19, 1990

Nearly Invisible Candidate Upsets Washington State Supreme Court Justice With AM-Anti-Incumbents, Bjt

SEATTLE (AP) _ Who is Charles Johnson? Everyone wanted to know on Wednesday, the day after the little known Tacoma lawyer pulled off the political upset of the year in Washington state.

No one is quite sure how or why, but Johnson defeated the chief justice of the state Supreme Court in Tuesday’s primary, thus virtually assuring himself of winning Washington’s top judicial job in November.

His victory over Chief Justice Keith Callow came out of nowhere.

All eyes had been on another state Supreme Court race, in which former Gov. John Spellman was challenging Justice Richard Guy. The power of incumbency worked for Guy, who staved off Spellman.

But for no immediately apparent reason, the same quirky voters bounced Callow, an amiable moderate who had made neither waves nor enemies on the bench. By a 53-to-47 percent margin, they picked the 39-year-old Johnson, who had done little more than pay his filing fee and wait for lightning to strike.

Johnson, as amazed as anyone, said he decided to run ″because nobody ever runs against these guys and I think the people want someone else to vote for. They wanted a new face on the bench.″

″I’m not a politician,″ he added. ″I’m not a Democrat or Republican. I’m a true independent. I owe nothing to anyone. I accepted no campaign contributions, I paid my $800 filing fee out of my own pocket.″

There was a sense of disbelief at the high court.

″We’re in shock here. We don’t know what happened,″ said Supreme Court Clerk Jerry Merritt.

Justice Bob Utter, senior member of the high court, said he had no explanation.

″It’s obvious Keith should have campaigned,″ Utter said.

Callow conceded the point.

″Between the filing period and election with court business, with the Bar Association meeting and with the Judicial Conference, I didn’t campaign, he didn’t campaign and now the voters have spoken,″ Callow said.

″I wish Johnson well,″ he added, ″and I wish the court well the next six years.″

Secretary of State Ralph Munro suggested that voters may have confused Johnson with King County Superior Court Judge Charles V. Johnson, or possibly Justice Charles Z. Smith, both well known in King County, the state’s largest.

That theory washed out when it was learned that Callow had outpolled Johnson in King County.

″I don’t know what you can attribute it to except the name confusion,″ Munro said. ″I think this is going to prompt a look at the law.″

Munro said it might be better to have Supreme Court races decided in the general rather than the primary election, even when there are only two candidates.

Johnson’s name will appear alone on the ballot Nov. 6, virtually assuring him of election.

Johnson said he is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound Law School and has been practicing criminal and civil law in Tacoma for 13 years.

He said he probably could be considered conservative but his answers to questions suggested no strong ideological leaning.

He said he is strongly pro-choice on abortion. He supports the death penalty, but does not want to see a speed-up in the appeal process for death cases.

Johnson said he wasn’t worried that the sitting justices would resent him or regard him as unqualified.

″I don’t know any of the justices, but I know their work,″ he said. ″I read every decision handed down by the Supreme Court and I read every legal article I can lay my hands on. I have the legal knowledge needed to sit on the court.″

Update hourly