The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations for the Aug. 7 GOP primaries for judge in the 18th Judicial District Court in Sedgwick County. No Democrats are running in any of the five divisions, so Republican voters will decide the winners. The editorial board took into account the latest attorney survey by the Wichita Bar Association and The Eagle, the results of which will be detailed in the Sunday Eagle. We offer these recommendations as information to consider as you make up your own mind about the candidates.
Incumbent Phillip B. Journey has narrowly earned our endorsement for a second term on the bench, but needs to take seriously the criticisms of his tenure so far. The former state legislator fared the worst of the 26 judges included in the latest WBA/Eagle attorney survey, which echoed the 2010 survey in finding some fault with his knowledge and application of the law and his work ethic. It’s also a concern that his well-intended use of the day-reporting center while assigned to traffic cases created a significant budget problem for Sedgwick County.
But his challenger, Linda Kirby, came in last overall in the survey; other attorneys were particularly concerned about her legal knowledge and ability to explain her legal positions. Her 23-year solo practice also lacks breadth, especially when it comes to the trial experience that prepares someone to manage a courtroom. Journey is the better choice.
By all accounts, Dave Dahl has the solid resume and steady temperament to make an excellent judge. Known as a nice guy as well as a good lawyer, Dahl scored highly in the latest attorney poll and deserves to win in this race to succeed retiring six-term Judge James Burgess. He has been a small-business, employment, real estate and trial attorney and an active community volunteer (and is a bit of a celebrity because of his 31 years as color commentator for Wichita State men’s basketball).
The other Republican, Faith Maughan, is well-liked and has a good resume, including service in the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps and as a municipal prosecutor and judge. But her sharply partisan campaign has sparked questions about her ability to be fair and impartial on the bench.
Sedgwick County deputy public defender Jama D. Mitchell is the best choice in this race. A well-qualified trial lawyer known for her toughness, professionalism and hard work, Mitchell is passionate about the law and the opportunity to serve the community as a judge. She spends her days in court and has extensive experience with jury and bench trials.
Incumbent J. Patrick Walters has not made a good impression in his first term, scoring low in the 2010 and 2012 attorney polls and having a problem with courtroom demeanor especially while assigned to family law.
The other candidate is David Nelson, a longtime general practitioner who is liked by many peers but falls short of Mitchell in this primary matchup.
Charles Steve Osburn, who since 1998 has led what he calls the largest criminal defense firm in the state as Sedgwick County’s chief public defender, is the better candidate in this race. He is highly qualified and would make a fine judge. Osburn has participated in more than 100 jury trials and practiced in courtrooms throughout the state. His client list has included the notorious likes of Dennis Rader and Scott Roeder. He knows how a courtroom should be run.
Stephen J. Ternes has a solid reputation, a commitment to public service, and good experience in civil, probate, juvenile and family law. He scored a little better than Osburn on the WBA/Eagle survey, but he has never done a jury trial. Osburn is the more experienced trial attorney.
The winner will succeed Judge Clark Owens, who is retiring after 21 years on the bench.
Judge William S. Woolley has served capably since his 2000 election and more than deserves re-election. Attorneys rated him highly in 2010 and again this year, portraying him as knowledgeable, well-prepared, ethical and fair. On the bench, he has presided over cases as disparate as complex medical-malpractice lawsuits and the Club Mexico triple murders.
His challenger, David Calvert, was well-liked during his own tenure on the bench several decades ago and is admired as an attorney and an advocate for individuals with disabilities in the community. However, his candidacy doesn’t justify ousting Woolley.