By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – It’s a rare event when any of the three Lewis County Superior Court judge positions really open up, as in recent years the incumbents have run for reelection unopposed until they decide to retire.
So, contested races for the bench here are not common.
This year, two judges will be stepping down at the same time, and two candidates are campaigning for one of those seats.
Rural Chehalis attorney Katherine Gulmert filed to run for the position being vacated at the end of this year by Judge Richard Brosey. Chehalis lawyer Joely O’Rourke declared her candidacy for that seat in March.
In December, when Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt announced he would be retiring at the end of this year, Adna attorney Andrew Toynbee announced he would be a candidate. Nobody filed to run against Toynbee.
Hunt was first elected in 2004. Judge Brosey has held his seat since July 1998. Judge James Lawler is running for a third term and is unopposed.
The Superior Court judges preside over felony and high-money civil cases on the top floor of the Lewis County Law and Justice Center in Chehalis, the county seat. The job pays $162,618 a year.
The names of the three hopefuls will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Gulmert was the last of the three to make her plans known.
The native of central California moved to rural Chehalis in 2002 after earning her law degree in 1998 at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.
She’s worked both sides of the courtroom when it comes to criminal law, with the early parts of her career in various prosecutor’s offices.
In 1999, Gulmert worked at the Grays Harbor County Prosecutor’s Office. In 2000, she took a similar position with the city of Aberdeen and in 2004, with the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
For two years, she was the chief criminal deputy prosecutor in Jefferson County, doubling as the county coroner, and then worked as a deputy prosecutor in Cowlitz County until 2013.
Since then, Gulmert has been in private practice, co-creating a law firm that maintained an exclusive contract with the city of Longview for indigent defense. Gulmert cites other areas in which she’s practiced, such as family law, elder law, and veteran’s law.
She moved her practice to Chehalis this spring, taking an office in the building that holds the Community Mediation Center of Lewis County on Pacific Avenue.
Gulmert, 58, said when she saw Judge Brosey was retiring, she decided: “If I was going to be a judge, this was my time to do that.”
“I do have the experience for the position and I am hardworking,” she said. “And I will learn the areas which I haven’t yet done.”
“I am willing to put my whole self into it,” she said.
Her election information highlights giving back to the community.
“Our county deserves an experienced judge, one who, after listening carefully to both sides of a difficult case, will make her decision based on the laws as written,” she states.
When she’s not working, Gulmert volunteers her time as a board member for the Evergreen Playhouse in Centralia and the Ballet Theater of Washington.
Both Toynbee and O’Rourke since they announced their candidacies have been put on the contact list to serve as substitutes on the bench in in Lewis County Superior Court handling family law cases, as pro-tem commissioner.
According to the most recent information available from the state Public Disclosure Commission, only O’Rourke has reported raising any money for her campaign, with just over $12,000 raised and spent. Her campaign shows about $4,200 of debt, money the O’Rourkes loaned the campaign.
PDC filings for Gulmert, Toynbee and Lawler each show they have raised no money.
The primary election on Aug 2 won’t include any local judicial races but does include various federal and state offices as well as contested races for two of the three Lewis County commissioner positions.
Numerous candidates have filed to run for state representative and state senator in Legislative District 19 which includes the southwest portion of Lewis County. The two representatives and senator for Legislative District 19, the rest of the county, are on the ballot, but unopposed.
See the online Voter’s Guide for the primary election, here
For background, read:
• “Judge Brosey eyes retirement, Chehalis lawyer to seek election to the court” from Wednesday March 30, 2016, here
• “Lewis County judge won’t seek election to fourth term, local lawyer to try for the bench” from Wednesday December 16, 2015, here
• Information on candidate Katherine Gulmert, here
• Information on candidate Joely O’Rourke, here
• Information on candidate Andrew Toynbee, here