David Mistachkin, left, and Ray Kahler.

David Mistachkin, left, and Ray Kahler.

Mistachkin likely winner in judicial race

David Mistachkin emerged as the probable winner by widening his lead in the race for Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge. He now leads current Judge Ray Kahler by 567 votes in the tally released Thursday for the seat Kahler filled by appointment in January.

The results Thursday night showed Mistachkin with 12,398 votes (51.17 percent) to Kahler with 11,831 votes.

“The late vote clearly favored me,” Mistachkin said. The first vote results on Tuesday night had Kahler leading by 20 votes.

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 campaigned on his 15 years as a trial lawyer and family law attorney in running for Superior Court Judge Position 3.

Kahler was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office last November after Judge F. Mark McCauley retired. Kahler was an attorney and former partner at Stritmatter Kessler Whelan (offices in Hoquiam and Seattle) prior to his appointment, working mostly in the area of personal injury cases.

In August, Kahler’s ruling in the case of an accused kidnapper, Isaac J. Gusman, was strongly criticized on social media and by family of the female victim. During the campaign, while not directly criticizing Kahler, Mistachkin called the case “concerning to the community,” and noted Kahler changed his initial decision — and ultimately found Gusman guilty of a more serious crime — after the victim’s family and others picketed the courthouse.

“I think a lot of people were very skeptical of the motivation for him to change his decision, Mistachkin said, speculating the case had an impact on how people voted. “The Gusman case played a big role in it, and also I’d like to think the merits had something to do with it,” he added.

Kahler said he knew the case would cost him votes but believes he made the right decision under the circumstances.

“I would rather lose an election than compromise my integrity and the rule of law,” he said in an email Thursday night after the results were posted by the Grays Harbor County Elections Office. “Judges must make decisions based on the law and the facts of every case, not based on their personal political interests or the preferences of the electorate. Sometimes that means that judges have to make decisions that are not popular with the public.”

As an attorney, Mistachkin said he had been involved in jury trials on criminal matters ranging from simple assault to first-degree murder. He also has previously handled family law cases as a Superior Court Commissioner and a Court Commissioner in the Juvenile Department of Superior Court.

“I do think my experience and his lack of experience — that really mattered to people,” Mistachkin said of Kahler, whose main practice involved civil litigation.

A native of the Northwest, Mistachkin earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence from Willamette University in 2003. Mistachkin also is the board president of Habitat for Humanity in Grays Harbor — a position he plans to step down from after serving the past seven years.

Kahler graduated with honors from the University of Puget Sound and Harvard Law School, and has served on the board of the 7th Street Theatre for 20 years.

“After completing my service as a Superior Court judge, I plan to return to the Stritmatter Kessler law firm, where I practiced for 21 years, representing people who have been injured,” Kahler said of his future plans.

“He’s a smart guy, and I think he’s a great lawyer,” Mistachkin said of his opponent.

On the transition to wearing the black robe, Mistachkin replied: “I’m going to be on the bench judging the same cases I have been doing as a lawyer for years. The law is not new, the cases are not new.”

Mistachkin gave an emotional thank-you to all those who supported him.

“I’m just floored and humbled by the thousands of people who not only voted for me but who went out there and spread the word, putting up signs for me, boots on the ground, and the tons of people behind me. I take that very seriously.”