Meet the woman who's trying to keep Richard Sanders in retirement
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Defense attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud is running for an open seat on the Washington Supreme Court against former Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders.
Sanders is well known for his eccentric right-wing legal and social views, and he is notorious in the LGBT community for voting against equal marriage rights in the 2006 Andersen v. King County case. McCloud, although less well known, nevertheless finished first in a four-way primary race to land a spot on the November 6 ballot.
'I was the underdog,' she explained. 'I was the only one who hadn't run a campaign before. I had to scrap like an underdog - but that's what you're doing when you work as a criminal defense attorney.'
When Sanders lost his Supreme Court seat to Charlie Wiggins in the 2010 election, Wiggins accused him of bias in favor of criminal defendants. As a criminal defense attorney, McCloud has a much different take on Sanders' record.
'Many of those times [that Sanders voted in favor of a defendant], I was the advocate representing the defendant, so I don't criticize him for voting to uphold my client's rights,' she smiled.
Instead, she told SGN, 'I'm running because I have a ton of experience arguing for people's constitutional rights -against sex discrimination, against race discrimination - and I have a record that will prove I'm dedicated to a level playing field.'
The main difference between McCloud and her opponent, she says, is 'judicial temperament.'
'When the Spokane Spokesman-Review and the Seattle Times endorsed me, that's what they cited,' she said.
Asked what she believes is appropriate temperament for a Supreme Court justice, McCloud answered in terms that few would ever use to describe Sanders.
'It's working collegially,' she said, 'winning over skeptics to your position. It's devotion to the Constitution even if the result is unpopular. In a word, judicial independence.
'And access to justice,' she continued. 'Your demeanor and your language have to be respectful to people before the court. And you stand for equal rights and a level playing field, and I have a track record that I'll do that.'
DEATH PENALTY 'NOT WORKING'
In May, McCloud won a major court victory in the case of Darold Stenson, convicted of murdering his wife and his business partner, and sentenced to death in 1994.
'We discovered, 15 years after he was put on death row, that the state hid evidence in his case. Yes, that was in Washington. Not Louisiana. Not Mississippi,' McCloud said, shaking her head. 'And we found that the lead detective in the case likely contaminated physical evidence.'
After an unsuccessful appeal to the original trial judge, McCloud took the case to the state Supreme Court, and won an 8-1 reversal of Stenson's conviction. She had worked on the case for 12 years.
'They said yes, it violates the due process clause, and yes, the state did it, and so we don't have confidence in the conviction,' McCloud explained.
Asked if she had personal feelings about the death penalty that might influence her findings on the Supreme Court, she answered, 'My personal feelings are irrelevant. We have the death penalty on the books. I think, though, we're seeing it's not working.'
A PRO-GAY BRIEF
McCloud has been involved in a number of other civil rights cases, including Cook v. Reinke, a 2011 case in which an Idaho man was convicted under an old state law forbidding 'the infamous crime against nature' - in other words, same-sex sexual acts.
As amicus chair for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, McCloud partnered with ACLU attorneys to write a brief for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, urging that court to reverse Cook's conviction.
'You can't punish people for consensual, private sex acts,' McCloud said. 'That's Lawrence v. Texas. But we lost. The state's argument was that it was not consensual and not completely private - it took place in a sauna.'
Asked how she coped with losing cases she felt invested in, McCloud smiled.
'I started as a public defender doing jury trials - two a day. I know how to lose,' she replied.
'I learned something from the first time I lost a case. The client tuned to me and said, 'Thank you, thank you, for all the effort you put into this.' He appreciated that I went to the mat for him. And that's what I do. I go to the mat for my clients.'
DEFENDED GUN OWNERS
McCloud has also argued several important Second Amendment cases, getting reversals of gun possession convictions.
'I'm equal opportunity when it comes to the Constitution,' she told SGN. 'When you're devoted to Constitutional rights you gotta be devoted to Constitutional rights. I've argued every amendment there is.
'The point is to protect Constitutional rights and apply the law evenhandedly, not to be result-oriented.'
McCloud says she has enjoyed the campaign so far, particularly 'the opportunity to talk with people, and for them to challenge me, 'What are you going to do about this? Or, what are you going to do about that?' And I have to remind them, my job [as a justice] is just to apply the law fairly, not to make law.'
She has been surprised, she says, by how closely voters follow legal cases.
'I was very surprised when I went to the legislative district meetings to hear non-lawyers asking what I thought about Citizens United,' she told SGN. 'They knew the case by name. I didn't expect that. It made me feel like I had to go and do my homework.
'And cannabis,' she added. 'I've had many questions about the marijuana initiative [I-502].
'I testified about medical marijuana several years ago. I've been on chemo, I know what it's like to choose what drug you can use to alleviate your symptoms - but one of the most common drugs is illegal.
'Obviously no one is going to throw a bald chemo patient in jail, but you're putting your seller at risk.'
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