POULSBO — Jennifer Forbes, an active judge pro tem and former deputy prosecutor, was elected Tuesday to the Kitsap County Superior Court, Department 7.
Forbes, 41, will be the youngest judge in Kitsap County Superior Court and will succeed Judge M. Karlynn Haberly, who is retiring as the court’s longest-serving judge. Forbes is a lawyer with McGavick Graves, and is a judge pro tem in Bremerton, Bainbridge Island, Gig Harbor, and Kitsap County courts.
As of 8:10 p.m. Tuesday, Forbes had 42,087 votes to Karen Klein’s 20,903. The results are unofficial and will be updated Wednesday by 5 p.m., according to the Kitsap County Auditor Elections website. The Elections Office estimates there are 40,000 ballots left to count.
"Nothing feels as good as seeing the fruits, if you will, of our labor, the end result that we worked so far for the past year," Forbes said Tuesday evening. "It's overwhelming, it's almost hard to articulate the feeling right now, we're still trying to get used to it."
Forbes and Klein were the top vote-getters of four candidates in the Aug. 7 primary; Forbes almost received the 51 percent of the vote necessary to win the judgeship in the primary. Despite the distant-second finish in August, Klein said she felt positive about her campaign, and since the primaries has been door-belling all around the county to increase her visibility.
The issues that come before a Superior Court judge could affect a citizen more directly than laws passed by members of Congress. That’s why Klein has been advocating for more public education regarding the judicial system.
"What I've learned meeting voters is lawyers don't do a great job educating voters about the third branch of government," Klein said Monday. "We need to do a better job of educating."
Superior Court judges serve four-year terms, and consider felony matters, real property rights, domestic relations, estate, mental illness, juvenile, and civil cases over $50,000. The superior courts also hear appeals from courts of limited jurisdiction. Judges are paid $148,832 a year, shared by the county and the state.
Forbes supports alternative courts for veterans and individuals with mental health issues, and those topics were among the issues she delved into during the campaign.
During the campaign — at civic meetings, festivals and other community events — Forbes said many voters asked her for her position on particular issues, which she was often prohibited from commenting on by judicial rules requiring impartiality. Like Klein, she spent time educating voters about the court system, its rules and its importance as a branch of government. Forbes said many voters asked about the difference between municipal, district and superior courts, and about sentencing procedures.
"The experience I bring to the bench, as well as connection to the community, has resonated with voters all the way through," Forbes said. “I can't overestimate enough how much support I've received from hundreds of people through this process, particularly my family, [and] how important that is to me.”
Forbes has said one of her priorities will be improving the efficiency of the Superior Court system.
During an interview with members of the Herald editorial board, Forbes spoke about the growing number of civil litigants who are representing themselves, called “pro se,” because they can’t afford an attorney. The right to an attorney does not apply to civil litigants, and in civil cases court rules apply equally to attorneys and pro se litigants.
To keep pro se hearings from being bogged down, she wants to make sure the court process and procedures are understandable, and have a separate calendar for cases in which both sides are represented pro se.
She also wants to make the Superior Court paperless, like District Court, which would enable electronic filing of cases.
Klein is CEO and general counsel of Silver Planet. She has been a civil and criminal attorney for more than 30 years, and has served as a judge pro tem.
Klein said her message of her diverse experience, independence, integrity and education resonated with voters. Some have said to her, "I hope I never have to be in front of you." But Klein said court doesn't have to be seen as a place where only conflicts are resolved — marriages and adoptions happen before judges too.
"That's why they [voters] should care, because many of the issues you care about are decided by a judge," she said. "I think everybody would have more trust in the judicial system if they understand … how the court system works and what it does."
Klein supports creation of a mental health court and a veterans court; using social media as a way to educate the public about the court system; and making Superior Court a paperless court.
Citing her law experience and community service, she said, “I have a passion for justice, to further serve the public.”
Forbes thanked her family, volunteers and supporters Tuesday.
"I want to thank the people who really worked hard for me … I really appreciate the voters for putting the trust in me, and I intend to work as hard as I did for this campaign as on the bench, and to remember my role as public servant," she said. "I promise to take that role very seriously."
Forbes also thanked Klein for her hard work.
"If you've not run an election you have no idea how hard people work, and I've seen her [Klein] work very hard from day one and I have a lot of respect for the amount of effort she put into this campaign."