State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez held a strong lead over little-known challenger Bruce Danielson in partial statewide returns Tuesday night.

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State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez, seeking to hold on to the seat to which he was appointed in November, appeared to prevail over little-known challenger Bruce Danielson after partial statewide returns Tuesday night.

Gonzalez, who had 57 percent, had said that his ethnicity might pose a stumbling block, with voters favoring Danielson’s name.

In another race, former Justice Richard Sanders was locked in a tight race to regain a spot on the court, two years after narrowly losing his seat in the wake of controversial comments about race and crime. He had more than 27 percent in his bid to advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

Sheryl Gordon McCloud, a Seattle attorney and veteran appellate lawyer who last year won a new trial for a man on Washington’s death row, had more than 31 percent; Bruce Hilyer, a longtime King County Superior Court judge, had nearly 26 percent; and John Ladenburg, who has served as Pierce County’s prosecuting attorney and county executive, trailed with 15 percent.

In the campaign, Sanders pointed to his record as a defender of individual rights; McCloud underscored her 25 years of fighting for constitutional rights; Hilyer cited his 12 years of practical experience as a trial judge; and Ladenburg relied on his broad background in law and public service.

Sanders, known for his outspoken views, found himself on the defensive two years ago when, late in the 2010 campaign, The Seattle Times reported that during a court meeting that October, Sanders and Justice James Johnson disputed the view that racial discrimination plays a significant role in the disproportionate number of blacks in prison.

Sanders defended his stance at the time, saying “certain minority groups” are “disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem.” He later said his comments had been misconstrued and that, in truth, he believed people commit crimes because of their circumstances.

The six-year seat is being vacated by retiring Justice Tom Chambers.

Under Washington’s “top two” primary system, any candidate in a Supreme Court race who gets a majority of the vote advances unopposed to the general election.

Gonzalez, a former King County Superior Court judge, was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the state Supreme Court in November after Justice Gerry Alexander reached the state’s mandatory retirement age.

A former assistant U.S. attorney who spent 10 years on the Superior Court bench, Gonzalez racked up newspaper and judicial endorsements. Danielson, a Port Orchard trial lawyer, raised no money and didn’t actively campaign.

The other current justice on the ballot, Susan Owens, led with more than 61 percent. One challenger, Douglas McQuaid, a Seattle lawyer, had more than 24 percent, and Scott Stafne, an Arlington attorney, had just over 12 percent.

Owens, a former District Court judge in Clallam County, was first elected in 2000.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or