Stan Lippmann and John “Zamboni” Scannell both filed as candidates to take on two state Supreme Court justices, but judges in Thurston County recently ruled the two men are unqualified to run because they are disbarred attorneys.
Two disbarred attorneys who planned to challenge two state Supreme Court justices up for re-election have been booted off the November ballot, deemed ineligible to run for the seats because they’ve been stripped of their law licenses.
Seattle attorneys Rob McKenna and Paul Lawrence successfully petitioned a Thurston County Superior Court judge Monday to bar Stan Lippmann, 58, from running against Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, who was first elected in 2012.
Three days earlier, Port Angeles attorney Karen Unger also prevailed in her petition before a different Thurston County judge to have John “Zamboni” Scannell, 70, removed from the ballot. Scannell had signed up to challenge Justice Susan Owens, a member of the high court since 2001.
By Tuesday, Lippmann and Scannell had been removed from the list of candidates on the Secretary of State’s website.
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The nine justices serve six-year terms and their terms are staggered to maintain the continuity of the court.
The petitions against Lippmann and Scannell were heard in Thurston County Superior Court because the state capital is in Olympia and is where the Supreme Court convenes.
Erich Ebel, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kim Wyman, said candidates fill out a form, attesting that they are eligible to run, and pay a filing fee. The office checks to ensure candidates are registered voters and confirm their residency, but otherwise does not research candidates to confirm they are qualified for a position.
Ebel confirmed Lippmann and Scannell were removed from the ballot after the office received the court orders that found the two men ineligible to serve on the Supreme Court. Each paid a $1,866 filing fee and that money is nonrefundable, Ebel said.
“It’s a waste of resources … (and) it’s a waste of the justices’ time to campaign against someone who isn’t eligible to hold the office,” said McKenna, a two-time state attorney general now in private practice with the law firm Orrick.
According to the state Constitution, the only people eligible to sit on the bench are those who “have been admitted to practice” law in Washington.
In 1916, a suspended attorney attempted to run for a spot on the Superior Court bench in Lewis County, arguing that he had been admitted to practice law, despite his law license being suspended before the election. The Supreme Court rejected the argument as absurd.
“This provision of the constitution, in our opinion, defines a personal status which must continue, and when the status ceases to continue the person is ineligible. We think no other reasonable construction can be placed upon this provision,” the justices wrote in Willis v Monfort.
The attorneys who filed the petitions against Lippmann and Scannell cited the ruling in their motions, court records show.
In a phone interview, Lippmann made the same argument, that he had been admitted to practice law. He also derided McKenna and Lawrence for relying on a 102-year-old legal ruling.
“When you’re a judge, you’re not allowed to be an attorney. Therefore, not being an attorney is an asset,” he said. “The only issue is the bar association deems me morally unfit.”
Lippmann, who was disbarred in 2008 for misusing clients’ money, said he plans to file a motion to vacate the Thurston County judge’s ruling. He said he also plans to file bar complaints against the attorneys who filed the petition against him and run as a write-in candidate.
He said he was disbarred for accounting mistakes and never stole any money.
According to McKenna, the judge’s ruling finding Lippmann ineligible cannot be appealed.
Lippmann, who did not appear in court for Monday’s hearing, has run in more than a dozen elections since 1997, most recently for King County executive and mayor of Lake Forest Park. He’s never been elected.
Scannell was disbarred in 2010 for conflict of interest and for deliberately obstructing the state bar association’s investigation into his misconduct. In 2014, Scannell ran against Justice Debra Stephens because no one challenged his appearance on the ballot.
At the time, Stephens told The Stranger going to court would give Scannell “publicity for his long-shot candidacy and a new forum in which to re-litigate the settled matter of his disbarment.”
Scannell — who for years was known as “Zamboni John ” because he drove the ice-smoothing machine at Seattle Center — did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Unger, a longtime friend and former law partner of Justice Owens, said she filed her petition after realizing Owens’ last-minute challenger was a disbarred attorney. It was a straightforward matter, using a mechanism in state law to show Scannell is not qualified to run for the high court, she said.
“It was purely a legal issue. It wasn’t even a fact issue because he was disbarred … That was undisputed,” Unger said. “If you can’t be a lawyer, how can you be a judge?”
Justice Steven Gonzalez is also up for re-election. His challenger is Bellevue attorney Nathan Choi, who was admonished following his failed campaign last year for a seat on the state Court of Appeals for misleading campaign ads that could lead voters to believe he was already a judge and not properly disclosing campaign spending.
Information in this article, originally published June 5, 2018, was corrected June 6, 2018. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Justice Susan Owens has served on the high court since 2010. She’s been a Supreme Court justice since 2001.