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Q&A with Grant County Superior Court judge candidates

by JOEL MARTIN
Staff Writer | July 18, 2022 4:42 PM

GRANT COUNTY — Melissa Chlarson and Anna Gigliotti are in the running for the position of Grant County Superior Court judge. Each candidate was presented with a set of questions to highlight their experience and goals for the position. The candidates’ responses are provided below and have been lightly edited for clarity. Candidates’ responses are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Chlarson: Locally grown, I was born in Quincy, Washington, grew up in Quincy and Moses Lake. I am a proud graduate of Gonzaga University and Gonzaga University School of Law where I earned my bachelor’s of business administration and Juris Doctorate degrees. I am the mother of two very active children and have been fortunate to be able to raise my children in the community I grew up in while also having a professional career.

I have been licensed to practice law since 2002 and currently hold the position of Grant County District Court commissioner. I was appointed to this position by the current district court judge after my opponent was appointed to the superior court bench by Gov. Inslee last fall.

I am running for this position because I am passionate about the administration of justice and believe in the importance of having a strong, well-balanced bench. I love our community, am proud of my roots, and believe in the importance of the right to vote and giving voters the opportunity to have an active voice in deciding who gets to serve them on the bench.

Gigliotti: I am from Eugene, Oregon, and was born in the same hospital as Grant County Superior Court Judge Hill. I was a deputy prosecuting attorney for 10 years and defense attorney for five years. During my time as a defense attorney, I also handled civil matters. I was a Grant County deputy prosecutor for Prosecutor Dano from 2016-2018. In 2018 I was appointed Grant County District Court commissioner and in 2021 was appointed as a Grant County Superior Court Judge.

I became interested in the position when there was an opening on the bench and numerous people in the community urged me to apply and bring my experience to Superior Court and give back to the county.

Q: What are your qualifications for the office?

Chlarson: I have spent the last 20 years practicing law right here in Grant County and have zealously represented clients in all areas of the law. In addition to being a lawyer for 20 years, I also have nine years of judicial experience. I served as the Grant County Superior Court commissioner for 8 1/2 years. As commissioner I presided over cases involving domestic relations, paternity and child support, juvenile dependencies, domestic violence, juvenile offender matters and any other matter assigned by the judges. During this time, I earned a reputation for my respectful and calm judicial temperament and my articulate and consistent decision-making. I currently hold the position of Grant County District Court commissioner and preside over civil and criminal matters. I am the candidate with the most diverse legal experience and the candidate with the most judicial experience. This experience, in Grant County, matters.

Gigliotti: I am the most qualified for the position based on my broad experience in the legal field. I have tried over 60 jury trials and understand how important it is to make sure a judge is well versed in the rules of evidence, along with the rules of criminal and civil procedure. In addition to my vast experience in the courtroom as an attorney I also have experience on the bench from my time as the Grant County District Court commissioner. I am endorsed by all three district court judges whom I worked for as District Court commissioner. I am currently in the position I am running for and have presided over a wide array of civil, criminal, and family law matters.

Q: If you are elected, what are your top three goals? What issues do you see as the court’s biggest challenges, going forward?

Chlarson: If elected my top three goals are (in no particular order): 1. Ensure that cases get moving towards resolution in a more timely and efficient manner; 2. Be an active judge who supports and encourages participation within the local bar association; 3. Restore our community’s faith and trust in our justice system here in Grant County.

The court’s biggest challenge going forward is the lack of trust and faith our community has in the judicial system. It is important to me that steps are taken to help restore that trust. This starts with the judges who must start raising the standards of practice in the courtrooms. Court rules need to be upheld and less continuances should be granted. In order for our court to be more efficient, the judges must take back the control.

Gigliotti: 1. The first challenge/goal is to address the backlog of cases caused by the closure of the courts due to COVID. Our court has already made progress on getting cases to trial and I will continue to work on scheduling so we can have cases heard as soon as possible.

  1. The second challenge/goal is the crimes being committed by individuals with substance abuse issues. When a property crime occurs, the victims suffer a loss but there is also the cost to house the defendant once they are sentenced for their crime. Without treating the underlying substance abuse issue this cycle can repeat itself.

Our court is addressing this challenge/goal by starting a drug court in this county. This sentencing alternative will allow addicts to address their substance abuse issues, learn the skills to stay sober and become productive working members of our community. With addressing the addiction, we will cut down on our recidivism rate and the cost to house these individuals.

  1. The third challenge/goal is the lack of space in the jail. Individuals who have active warrants are not always taken into custody; in addition, there are times when law enforcement has probable cause to arrest but they choose not to because of booking restrictions. Once the new jail is built this challenge should be addressed and warrants will be able to be served. Until that time, I am committed to ensuring this issue is addressed by taking a holistic approach in carefully analyzing whether defendants should be held or released.

Q: What do you see as the longer-term challenges for the county?

Chlarson: A longer-term challenge for our county is mental health. A significant percentage of our population suffers from mental health issues, issues that are going left untreated. Because of this, our homeless population has grown and drug use and crime rate is up. We need a therapeutic court. We need more resources for the people who are suffering from mental health disorders.

Gigliotti: A long-term challenge to our county is lack of space in the courthouse. Currently there is no room to accommodate multiple juries at one time and there is a need for more office space as well. Given the population increase in Grant County, this issue will only get worse as time goes on. For this reason, it is imperative we look to long-term solutions such as building expansion.

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