Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a handful of other donors have poured $900,000 into a late-campaign ad barrage to defeat state Supreme Court Justice Charlie Wiggins.

Share story

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a handful of other donors have poured $900,000 into a late-campaign ad barrage to defeat state Supreme Court Justice Charlie Wiggins.

A political-action committee called Citizens for Working Courts raised $550,000 in donations in recent weeks to support Wiggins’ challenger, Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Dave Larson.

Gates gave $200,000 to the PAC. An additional $300,000 came from Vulcan, the company that manages the interests of Paul Allen, fellow billionaire and Microsoft co-founder.

That’s in addition to a separate PAC, Judicial Integrity Washington, that has raised more than $350,000 to fuel TV ads against Wiggins over a ruling that overturned a man’s conviction on possession of child pornography.

That PAC’s biggest donor is Ken Fisher, the Camas, Clark County, billionaire who runs an investment firm.

“This is an attack on the credibility of the court,” Wiggins said, expressing astonishment over what he called an “eleventh-hour” stroke of the pen by a group of billionaires.

The independent spending dwarfs the $205,000 raised by Wiggins’ campaign. Groups including Planned Parenthood have reported an additional $12,000 in independent spending to support him.

The Gates-funded PAC will air positive TV ads about Larson, said Michael Davis, president of Enterprise Washington, a pro-business group coordinating the effort.

Davis called Larson an extremely well-qualified and moderate judge who’d bring balance to the Supreme Court.

“The court right now is just simply too divisive, too extreme and too polarizing in its decisions,” he said.

Davis didn’t name specific rulings but pointed to a 2016 judicial scorecard by the Association of Washington Business that was critical of the court’s rulings on business and regulatory issues.

Gates and other major donors to the effort also were big supporters of the state’s charter-schools law, which was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court last year and subsequently overhauled by the state Legislature.

Other donors to the Citizens for Working Courts PAC include former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith, the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

In another development, five prominent members of Washington’s legal community, including a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, are denouncing the Judicial Integrity-sponsored TV ads that depict Wiggins as soft on crime.

In addition to Fisher, the PAC’s biggest donors are Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman’s Kemper Holdings and Seattle Mariners owner John Stanton, who built his wealth in the wireless industry. Fisher and Freeman are among Donald Trump’s biggest donors in Washington.

In a recent letter, the five legal-community members ask that the ad be pulled. The letter was to sent to Fisher, Freeman and Stanton, along with former state Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, who runs the Judicial Integrity PAC.

The letter was signed by former Chief Justice Gerry Alexander; Seattle University law professor Dave Boerner; former Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge; former U.S. Attorney John McKay in Western Washington; and Rebecca Roe, a Seattle attorney and former King County deputy prosecutor.

“The ad you have funded and placed borrows tactics from some of our country’s ugliest political moments — most famously, the despicable and widely decried Willie Horton ads in 1988,” the letter says, referring to a TV ad used against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis by George H.W. Bush in the presidential election that year.

Horton, while serving a life sentence for murder, was released from a Massachusetts prison on a weekend furlough program supported by Dukakis. During his furlough, Horton escaped and raped a woman, according to a Time magazine account of the ad.

Similarly, the ads targeting Wiggins, the letter says, knowingly misrepresent “both the impacts — and motives — of Justice Wiggins’ majority opinion” in the child-pornography case, the letter says.

In that case, Wiggins wrote the majority opinion in May that overturned the Grant County conviction of a man accused of possessing child pornography. The 5-4 decision found police did not give the man proper warnings before they seized a computer from his home.

Subsequently, the man was arrested several weeks ago in Yakima and charged with attempting to arrange sex with a 14-year-old girl he met online who actually was an undercover officer.

The ads have the “serious potential to produce a chilling effect on the state’s judiciary, in which judges make decisions based not on their best interpretation of the law but on fear of electoral retaliation by a few people with substantial resources,” the letter says.

It cites Wiggins’ broad support throughout the legal community, including trial lawyers and prosecutors.

Wiggins echoed the letter’s themes, calling the big-money effort against him a threat to the independence of the court and a “sad commentary on judicial elections.”

“This is a pretty blatant attack,” he added, saying the spending represents the “crocodile in the bathtub.”

Tom defended the ad, saying, “Everything in there is factual. He made a bad decision.”

He also cited Wiggins’ support of the charter-school and McCleary school-funding rulings, as well his general support of government agencies over the “little guy.”

Wiggins unseated Justice Richard Sanders six years ago in a campaign marked by Sanders’ controversial comments on race in the criminal-justice system.