A late, unreported spending barrage by Nathan Choi, a candidate for the state Court of Appeals, has drawn a formal rebuke from the King County Bar Association.

Share story

The King County Bar Association (KCBA) has admonished Washington State Court of Appeals candidate Nathan Choi for a late spending barrage the group says was misleading and not properly disclosed.

Choi, a Bellevue attorney who is challenging incumbent Judge Michael Spearman, has not reported any donations or spending to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) as of Monday. Yet he has taken out a series of full-page ads in The Seattle Times in recent weeks and has an active campaign website.

An Oct. 30 newspaper ad mentioned Choi’s full name 23 times, including a headline asking “Vote for Judge Nathan Choi” — which could mislead voters into believing Choi is already a judge, according to the KCBA. While Choi has been an attorney admitted to the Washington bar since 2009, he is not a judge.

Component post 10560586 could not be found.

The sudden burst of political advertising in what had been a sleepy judicial race set off alarms, leading the bar association to meet Friday and vote to admonish Choi.

“Unfair or potentially deceptive campaign conduct by judicial candidates can undermine public confidence in the courts unless the public is certain that such conduct will not be tolerated,” said Andrew Maron, president of the bar association, in a news release.

The bar group said it was forwarding formal complaints to the PDC and the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Choi did not participate in the KCBA judicial-candidate rating process. He did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Monday. On his website he accused the bar group of being “very undemocratic.”

Spearman served 14 years as a King County Superior Court Judge before being appointed to the state Court of Appeals in 2010. He serves as the presiding chief judge for the court, which decides appeals of Superior Court cases and is the last step before cases go to the state Supreme Court.

The KCBA gave Spearman its highest rating: “exceptionally well qualified.” He received the same rating from five other legal associations. Spearman has been endorsed by 90 judges across the state, as well as Attorney General Bob Ferguson and former Attorney General Rob McKenna, according to the nonpartisan VotingForJudges.org.

Spearman said he has not seen Choi at any campaign forums or events but has heard of robo calls and mailers in addition to the newspaper ads. He accused Choi of either ignorance of campaign-finance rules or willfully disregarding them. “In either case, I think it reflects poorly on a candidate who seeks to serve in the position of judge,” he said.

Choi’s website says he previously practiced law and served as an arbitrator in Hawaii.