Judges jump into candidate tussle

Write-in hopeful gathers endorsements after residency flap

The depths of antagonism for - or, possibly, misunderstanding of - Multnomah County judicial candidate Leslie Roberts can be measured in one number: 13.

Seldom have that many Multnomah County circuit court judges endorsed a candidate for a Multnomah County circuit court judgeship. Even when that candidate's name is actually on the ballot.

But that's how many judges have endorsed 36-year-old Portland lawyer Charles Henderson in his race against the recently infamous Roberts. And Henderson's name is not on the ballot. He's running as a last-minute 'write-in' candidate against Roberts - who is the only official candidate for the judge's seat.

'Every judge who has offered their endorsement has made it pretty clear to me … that this is just as much about the fact that I am capable and a good candidate … as it is about the 'anybody but Roberts' factor - if that's the way you want to put it,' Henderson said.

But in at least some Portland legal circles, the 'anybody but Roberts' factor is fairly strong, and is no doubt the main propellant to Henderson's unusually strong write-in candidacy.

The strange legal politics are the result of the strange way Roberts became the only candidate for the circuit court judge's seat. She ended up in that position by pointing out to state election officials - three days after she had filed to run for the seat and after the filing deadline - that her next-door neighbor, whom Gov. Ted Kulongoski had appointed to the seat weeks before and who was planning to run as an incumbent, was not legally qualified to fill the seat for reasons of residency.

The resulting disqualification of Roberts' neighbor, Youlee Yim You, meant that after the filing deadline, Roberts stood alone on the ballot.

And quickly stood in fairly low esteem among many at the Multnomah County courthouse, and beyond.

'I think there's just a lot of feeling among the judges that it wasn't fair - to use a playground term,' said Multnomah County Circuit Judge Edward Jones, one of those who has endorsed Henderson. 'Keeping the knowledge to herself and … turning it to your personal advantage the way she did rubs people the wrong way.'

Roberts questions anger

Roberts, for her part, said people misunderstand what she did and why. They are wrong about the circumstances, she said. And, she said, she has not loudly enough refuted what they have wrong.

She could not file a formal challenge to You's candidacy until after You had filed her formal candidacy, Roberts said. You filed Aug. 21. A couple of days later, Roberts said, the secretary of state's office certified - wrongly, it turned out - that You was an eligible candidate. (After Roberts' challenge, elections officials decided that You was not an eligible candidate because she had not been an Oregon resident for three years before filing her candidacy.)

Roberts said she learned of You's formal candidacy, and the secretary of state's preliminary certification of it, on Friday, Aug. 25, when she returned to Portland from a vacation. Roberts filed her candidacy Tuesday, Aug. 29. She told You that day she would be challenging her candidacy, and formally did so Sept. 1, Roberts said.

'I wanted to give her a chance to withdraw herself,' Roberts said. 'My focus was on … giving her an opportunity to be graceful. The whole concept of lying in wait is ludicrous.'

But Roberts acknowledged that her actions regarding You have stirred a lot of anger from a lot of people.

'I think it is more of an anger … that is in search of a reason for existing,' she said of people's criticisms that she delayed challenging You's candidacy so she could ensure she would run alone. 'I think the real anger is that I questioned her candidacy. And the real feeling is that I should have given her a pass.'

Henderson said that's not what he believes. But, he said, 'sitting on the information - which is what it appears she did - gives the appearance of impropriety. It just gets into a gray area where judges should never step.'

Write-in is a 'safety valve'

Henderson is a former public defender now working as a lawyer for Allstate Insurance Co. in Portland. He has worked as a lawyer for about 10 years, one-third of the time Roberts has been a lawyer.

He said he had given fleeting thought to running for a judgeship one day. But when he learned of You's disqualification and Roberts' part in it, 'I just said, 'You know, somebody's gotta do something about this. Somebody's got to run against her. It's just ludicrous that she can walk into this position.' '

He made a Web posting announcing his write-in candidacy on Sept. 13. 'Within just hours I was getting phone calls,' he said. 'It took about a day to convince everyone that it wasn't a prank. And every day it's progressed from there.'

Henderson's campaign was recently bolstered by an editorial endorsement from The Oregonian - almost unheard-of for a write-in candidate. Roberts said the Oregonian editorial board never asked to talk to her. 'I can't compel anyone to endorse me, but I expect the courtesy of a conversation,' she said.

Still, in a judge's race where 80,000 votes might be cast, getting 40,000 people to write in his name will be a significant challenge, Henderson acknowledged.

Jones - who gave Henderson his first job when Jones ran Multnomah Defenders Inc. 10 years ago and called Henderson a 'very even-tempered, levelheaded, thoughtful, intelligent guy' - said of Henderson's quest: 'I think statistically, it's essentially an impossibility.' Jones then laughed. 'I suppose that kind of negative thinking is inappropriate for a story like this.'

Henderson, meanwhile, was more philosophical.

'This is the great thing about politics,' he said. 'This is why we have the write-in safety valve, if you will. When weird things happen and the day comes to a close for candidates to sign up, there's still space for democracy to happen and for people to vote. That's the great thing about it.'

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