San Juan County District Court judge candidates | Q&A

Staff report

On Nov. 6, a new San Juan County District Court judge will be elected for the first time in two decades. The two candidates running for the nonpartisan position are Steve Brandli and Carolyn M. Jewett.

San Juan County District Court Judge Stewart Andrew will retire at the end of the year, after serving five consecutive terms on the bench. The position holds a four-year term and received a $164,313 salary in 2018.

District courts in Washington state have jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, as well as preliminary hearings on felony cases. District courts also cover civil cases for damages and contract disputes up to $100,000; traffic and nontraffic infractions; and other civil proceedings for monetary value. The judges can issue domestic violence and antiharassment protection orders and no-contact orders.

Steve Brandli

Q: Why are you running for San Juan County District Court judge?

I am running for district court judge because I care deeply about our system of justice and the impact that it has on our community.

Our local courts have a tremendous impact on the quality of our life in the islands. We expect justice that serves our community fairly and accurately. As a result, our laws and legal procedures are complex, and judges are afforded wide discretion to apply those laws to local circumstances. Judges with extensive legal and personal experience in our community are best suited to fulfill our expectations.

Our judges work with those who are close to us — our neighbors, co-workers and family members — at difficult times in their lives. We expect our judges to have the compassion born from experience in our community when working with our community members.

So, I am running for district court judge because I desire to apply my 12 years of legal and personal experience — serving as prosecutor for district court, public defender, private attorney handling both civil and criminal matters, and judge and commissioner pro tem, and especially working with hundreds of clients over the last 10 years — to serving the community.

Q: What would be your first priority if you are elected to this position?

My first priority is to complete my understanding of district court operations from the excellent district court team. With this team, I will explore expanding the role of our probation officer to reduce repeat offenses and to provide effective alternatives to pretrial bail. I will explore making incremental changes to the court’s procedures to increase in-court efficiency, which will reduce costs to the county and parties. Longer term, I will explore the use of technology to enable remote court appearances, thereby increasing access to justice and reducing unnecessary disruption of the lives of those not living on San Juan Island.

Q: What is the biggest concern for a district court judge presiding over a small community like ours?

Lack of case volume in our small community court creates funding challenges. Our state courts are constantly improving best practices to address unmet needs. Particularly important are changes designed to assist criminal defendants in successful futures. However, small communities such as ours do not have the volume of cases necessary to fund these innovations. For example, while San Juan County is instituting a therapeutic court for drug offenders, it does not have the funding for other types of therapeutic courts such as for domestic violence, mental health, veterans and DUIs. Creativity is required to implement best practices in an affordable way.

CONTACT: Citizens to Elect Steve Brandli: 360-378-5544;;;

Carolyn M. Jewett

Q: Why are you running for San Juan County District Court judge?

I’m running because I’ve seen firsthand the importance that district court cases have in our community. Even the smallest case can have a huge impact on the individuals involved. As the district court prosecutor for the past three years, i’ve seen that district court offers many opportunities for offenders to make meaningful change, while still holding them accountable to the community and those they’ve harmed. I would be honored to serve as district court judge and ensure that each case is handled with dignity, respect and fairness.

Q: What would be your first priority if you are elected to this position?

My first priority would be ensuring fair legal process for everyone who comes through district court. A judge’s highest responsibility is to protect the rights of all who come before her, and to apply the law fairly to everyone — regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity, immigration status, income level, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity. To that end, I would work to improve equal access to the courts, and I would continue our district court’s efforts in reducing the disparate impact of court fees on those with lower incomes.

Q: What is the biggest concern for a district court judge presiding over a small community like ours?

In our small community, judges must be careful about social and professional connections outside the courtroom that could affect what happens inside the courtroom.

The code of judicial ethics requires judges to be mindful of how they conduct their personal lives in order to minimize conflicts. In our county, the district court judge is permitted to keep a private law practice on the side while working as a judge. However, every client and involved party becomes a potential conflict in the future. I would follow in the tradition of our current judge and not keep a practice on the side so that I would not be creating any conflicts through my professional work.

Still, judges will inevitably know a person who comes before them at one time or another; that’s just a reality in our county. A judge who has too close a connection must recuse herself. This helps ensure that the judge would not make a decision based on her personal connection, as opposed to the facts and the law in the case at hand.

On the other hand, being in a small community has the advantage of allowing more personal interaction between the judiciary and the parties that appear in court. This is one of the reasons I’m running. This is my community, and I want to make a positive impact.

CONTACT: The Committee to Elect Carolyn Jewett for District Court Judge; P.O. Box 3378, Friday Harbor, WA 98250;;;