A Tri-City lawyer who's served as a judge pro tem for 10 years has a 581-vote lead to get a permanent seat on the bench come January.
Dan Kathren had a slim lead Tuesday night in the race to become Benton County District Court's newest judge.
Kathren had 15,973 votes, or 51 percent in unofficial election results. Challenger Alex Ekstrom received 15,392 votes, or 49 percent.
"We remain optimistic. We think that the lead will only expand as more votes come in," Kathren said. "My opponent is a really terrific guy and he had a lot of really good support, so we figured it would be close. Of course, I would prefer to be ahead by a much greater margin."
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The Position 3 seat is up for grabs after Judge Holly Hollenbeck announcement his retirement after 15 years. He will leave the bench at the year's end.
The four-year position pays an annual salary of $141,710.
Kathren, 40, has been in private practice since 1996 and is under contract with Benton County to provide legal services to indigent clients in District Court.
Ekstrom, 40, is an assistant U.S. attorney for Washington's Eastern District and a former deputy prosecutor in both Franklin and Benton counties.
Tuesday, Ekstrom said he had anticipated from the beginning that the results would be very close.
"It's unclear who's going to win. We're going to have to wait and see," he said. "... This race will take a while to sort out."
Benton District Court, Pos. 4
Judge Joe Burrowes appeared late Tuesday to have succeeded in his race to keep the seat he was appointed to last year.
Burrowes said he thought voters chose him because he had a solid record on the bench.
"I have a proven and successful track record, and they have seen I am fair and impartial and temper my decisions with compassion," he said.
Richland attorney Dave Petersen attempted to unseat Burrowes after trying to get appointed to the seat in September 2009 when the county moved to a five-judge system.
"I couldn't have done this without the help of everyone," Petersen said Tuesday night. "The voters spoke."
Burrowes had 17,349 votes, or 55 percent of the vote counted Tuesday night, and Petersen had 14,042 votes, or 45 percent.
Burrowes, who had been a court commissioner since 2007, was appointed to the bench by the County Commission.
Petersen had served as a judge pro tem in Benton and Franklin counties, and Pasco Municipal Court.
Benton County totals from Tuesday include ballots received through Monday. The county received more than 10,000 ballots Tuesday.
Election officials continue counting ballots daily. Election results will be certified Nov. 23.