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Judge candidate questions appointee's donation to governor's campaign

An unusual contest for a Washington County circuit judgeship has taken a couple of sharp turns.

The contest is between Judge Ted Sims of Bull Mountain, newly appointed by Gov. Kate Brown, and Tim Marble, a lawyer from Forest Grove.

The contest for Position 1 is the only one among 17 judgeships up in the three Portland area counties, and just one of six among the 57 judgeships up statewide in the May 17 primary.

As the appointed incumbent, Sims has raised far more than Marble — $38,000 for Sims, including self-contributions and loans totaling $10,000, to Marble’s $6,600, most of it a self-loan.

Sims won an Oregon State Bar preference poll of Washington County lawyers, 116 to 45.

Although Oregon law provides for six-year terms for judges, who are elected on a nonpartisan basis, incumbent judges rarely have opponents. When there are contests, candidates are limited by ethics rules on what they can discuss — usually the role of a judge and the qualifications of the candidates.

This contest is different.

Marble has questioned the timing of a contribution that Sims, and other lawyers, made to Gov. Brown’s campaign committee after the incumbent, Thomas Kohl, announced his retirement last fall after 19 years on the bench.

In turn, however, Marble has fended off questions raised by a story in Willamette Week about delinquent taxes on Forest Grove properties he lists as his home and law office. The taxes have since been paid.

Neither issue is dealt with in the candidates’ statements in the state’s official voters pamphlet. Only Sims has statements in the judicial candidate guide of the Oregon State Bar and the League of Women Voters.

Neither matter came up at a joint appearance Monday at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum.

Both candidates have endorsements, but in addition to Gov. Brown, among Sims’ endorsers are former Gov. Barbara Roberts, all five Washington County commissioners and most of the county’s state legislators, and former Chief Justice Edwin Peterson.

The candidates

For Sims, 60, his appointment represented more than the culmination of a 35-year legal career. He achieved something that his father and grandfather had not during their time at the family law firm, which his grandfather founded in 1903.

“We represented everyday Oregonians, and my work on their behalf helped solve their legal problems in a fair way,” he said in a statement in the judicial candidate guide of the Oregon State Bar. “I bring that same sense to my work as a judge: fairness and common sense.”

Sims earned both his bachelor’s degree in economics (1977) and law degree (1980) from Willamette University. He then entered the family law firm, Sims & Sims, in Portland.

He graduated in 1973 from Marshall High School in Portland.

He ran for a Multnomah County judgeship but finished sixth of seven candidates in 2006.

Marble, 53, has practiced law in Forest Grove since 1996. He graduated from Forest Grove High School in 1980.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Anderson University in 1984 and a master’s in divinity studies from Vanderbilt University in 1988, he earned his law degree from Willamette University in 1993.

“I want to give the voters a choice and because of my commitment to serving the residents of Washington County,” he said to Pamplin Media Group. “Judicial positions frequently appear on the ballot unopposed. The voters deserve to have a voice in the process.”

Marble lost a race for Forest Grove mayor in 2014 to the incumbent, Pete Truax, who has endorsed Marble’s current bid for judge.

The contribution

In an email to Pamplin Media Group, Marble raised a question about a $1,000 contribution that Sims made on Oct. 19 to the Kate Brown Committee.

“I'm not looking to gain any advantage with this information,” Marble wrote. “But it does seem to be fundamentally unfair for the other persons who applied for the position and for the taxpayers if there is a relationship between appointments and campaign donations.”

The accusations drew a rebuke from Sims, who according to campaign finance records maintained by the Oregon secretary of state contributed a total of $2,500 to Democrat John Kitzhaber’s third-term victory for governor in 2010 and $1,000 to Kitzhaber’s fourth-term victory in 2014.

Sims said the records also show smaller contributions from him to the 2012 campaigns of Oregon Supreme Court Justice Richard Baldwin and Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick.

“It is surprising and somewhat disturbing that my opponent is calling into question the ethics of our governor and of me,” Sims wrote in a response.

“During the extensive interview, application and investigation process for the appointment to this position, I was never asked, and I never volunteered, whether or not I supported the governor. This appointment was made based on my qualifications for and ability to do the job of circuit court judge and nothing more.”

Brown herself is a lawyer.

The tax statements

Another controversy, which does not involve Sims, has raised questions about Marble.

Willamette Week reported April 4 that there are delinquent taxes on the properties that Marble lists as his law office and his home, both in Forest Grove.

Although Marble called that story “inaccurate,” he said in an email he was reluctant to comment further.

“I do not personally own either of those properties,” Marble wrote. “Nonetheless, the taxes are current on both properties to the best of my knowledge.”

An online check of county tax statements issued for the current budget year (2015-16) listed the same amounts that Willamette Week reported in delinquent property taxes. The amounts are $1,526 on the address for his law office, whose real market value is listed as $179,620, plus the value of office furnishings that are taxed as business personal property — and $11,364 on the address of his home. Its real market value is listed at $185,800. Taxes, however, are levied based on assessed values that are lower.

According to county records in Hillsboro, the delinquent taxes have been paid, although one record suggests that at least part were paid the same day as the news story.

According to other county records, his law office is owned by Elsie Properties LLC, whose post office box is the same as the law firm. Home ownership is in the name of the Muriel LaRose Marble Living Trust, named after his mother, who died in 2005.

Under state law, foreclosure proceedings can begin once property taxes are delinquent for three years. However, the foreclosure process takes an additional two years, during which the process can be canceled if the back taxes are paid.

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