Bainbridge Island attorney Charlie Wiggins has been elected to the state Supreme Court, unseating incumbent Richard Sanders after a tight race in which Sanders effectively conceded on Friday.
As more votes were counted this week, Sanders acknowledged the trend favored Wiggins. In an e-mail to supporters Friday, Sanders said he would likely lose.
While not formally conceding, Sanders wrote, “The campaign experts say that we are unlikely to make up that difference as the counties finish their tally over the next few days.
“It looks like we’re coming to the end of the campaign trail,” he wrote.
In an interview Friday night, an emotional Sanders blamed The Seattle Times for what he called certain defeat, saying the newspaper unfairly portrayed him as believing African Americans are more prone to commit crimes.
“This cost me the election,” he said.
Sanders came under fire late in the campaign after The Times reported remarks he had made during an Oct. 7 court meeting to examine equal treatment in the courts. Sanders and Justice James Johnson, who was re-elected in the August primary unopposed, disputed the view that racial discrimination plays a significant role in the disproportionate number of blacks in prison.
The Times editorial board, which is independent of the newsroom, then withdrew its endorsement of Sanders, throwing its support behind Wiggins.
Sanders said Friday night that he believes people commit crimes because of their circumstances and not because of their race, saying there is “no black crime gene.”
Wiggins stopped short of declaring victory, but he said Sanders’ e-mail “serves as pretty much of a concession.”
A Seattle Times analysis of voting trends showed Wiggins with an apparently insurmountable lead.
After trailing since Election Day, Wiggins pulled ahead of Sanders on Tuesday, bolstered by a steady trend favoring him in King County, where he garnered more than 58 percent of the vote.
As of Friday evening, Wiggins led with 50.15 percent of the vote, ahead of Sanders by 5,787 votes out of 1,889,447 counted so far. About 92,000 votes remained to be counted statewide, including more than 50,000 in King County, where Wiggins was well ahead.
Wiggins, elected to a six-year term in the nonpartisan race, credited a broad array of supporters, including judges and prosecutors, for helping him unseat a three-term incumbent first elected in 1995. He said he looked forward to “serving the people of this state.”
Sanders, an outspoken libertarian who positioned himself as a defender of individual rights, told his supporters in his e-mail that he planned to remain involved in public life and speak out about the justice system.
Sanders praised Wiggins for his “intelligence and professionalism” during campaign debates and when Wiggins had appeared at the state Supreme Court to argue appeals.
“I am sure he will be a good Justice, but of course he does not share my perspective on many issues,” Sanders wrote in the e-mail. “I have offered him my congratulations and promised him my 100 percent support for his new position.”
Sanders, known as a prolific dissenter, garnered support from a wide mix of voters, including anti-abortion advocates, property-rights and gun-ownership proponents and criminal-defense attorneys who saw him a staunch defender of the rights of the accused.
Wiggins, who briefly served as a state appeals-court judge in the mid-1990s, said Friday that Sanders was “absolutely gracious” during a congratulatory phone conversation earlier this week. Wiggins praised Sanders as a “very, very bright man” and “legal scholar” who had written outstanding opinions.
But Wiggins said he disagreed with enough of the opinions to form a difference with Sanders. He said he’ll bring more of a centrist view to the court and be a “consensus builder,” although he said he won’t be afraid to dissent.