With a second round of votes counted Wednesday afternoon, challenger David Mistachkin now leads current Grays Harbor County Superior Court Judge Ray Kahler by 241 votes for a seat on the bench.
The results Wednesday night showed Mistachkin with 11,034 votes (50.55 percent) to Kahler with 10,793 votes.
Kahler was appointed last November after Judge F. Mark McCauley retired. Kahler was an attorney and former partner at Stritmatter Kessler Whelan (offices in Hoquiam and Seattle) for 21 years prior to his appointment, working mostly in the area of personal injury cases.
Mistachkin, a lawyer and partner with the Aberdeen firm of Ingram, Zelasko & Goodwin, has served as a Grays Harbor District Court Judge (2015-2016) and touted his 15 years as a trial attorney in running for the Superior Court position.
Reached Tuesday night, Kahler reserved comment until more results are known. “We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “This is my first time involved in anything like this so I’m not in a very good position to predict” what the outcome might be.
Mistachkin said it was “obviously too close to call at this point. I’m still hopeful, 20 votes is about as close as it gets.”
In August, Kahler’s ruling in the case of an accused kidnapper, Isaac J. Gusman, was strongly criticized on social media. The case also drew some comments from Mistachkin, who called the case “concerning to the community.”
Kahler initially found Gusman guilty only of unlawful imprisonment among several charges and that spawned community protest on social media, criticism from the victim’s family and picketing at the Courthouse. After a motion to reconsider from the Prosecutor’s Office, Kahler made a new ruling, finding Gusman guilty of the more serious charge of second-degree attempted kidnapping. He said further legal research led to the new ruling, which resulted in an eight-month sentence.
“I’m not going to get into the specific facts of the case or criticize the decisions that were made. I will say that when you have … people in the community concerned, and picketing outside of the courthouse … that’s a problem,” Mistachken told The Daily World editorial board.
Kahler has said he would focus on improving family law cases, and noted Grays Harbor is behind other counties that more commonly use a mediation process. Expanding on the recently-added drug court, Kahler said it would be good to also have mental health courts and veterans court programs. He noted Superior Court has been affected by the opioid epidemic, and the “court is also involved in the impact of the opioid epidemic on children and families.”
Mistachkin has said one of the biggest issues facing the legal process is “the disparity in outcomes between litigants that have legal representation and those who do not.” Another issue he outlined was “abuse of the legal process by litigants and attorneys” who bring arguments before the court “by parties that completely lack merit.”