Paul Bastine moved a lot as a kid. Bill collectors always chased the family.
When he was 11, his alcoholic father disappeared, never to return. It was two weeks before Christmas. His mother, who had her own drinking problem, tumbled onto welfare to support three children. The car was repossessed, the rent routinely overdue.
“We were poor - very poor,” Bastine says. “It was always a struggle.”
But it was a fight he would win.
He stubbornly worked his way through high school and college managing Spokane movie theaters. He became a lawyer, then a partner whose name came first on the letterhead.
This week, his career sailed forward again. He slipped on a borrowed black robe and began presiding over a richly paneled third-floor courtroom as Spokane County’s newest Superior Court judge.
While Bastine, 56, is hailed in legal circles as “the logical choice” based on his 30 years of experience practicing law, what sets him apart from other graying attorneys is his fierce devotion to public service.
Driven by memories of a childhood plagued by poverty, he is widely regarded across Washington as a champion of programs providing legal help to the poor. He has served on numerous boards and committees charged with ensuring that all citizens have equal access to the justice system.
Despite his statewide prominence and involvement in Democratic politics, Bastine is modest by nature. He sits behind a tidy desk in his new chambers and calls himself “a little old country lawyer,” a reference to his small, three-attorney firm in the Spokane Valley.
“I’ve never considered myself to be a mover and shaker,” he says.
He replaced Robert Whaley, soon to become a U.S. District Court judge in Spokane.
Bastine’s $97,000-a-year job materialized suddenly.
Whaley’s Senate confirmation was still warm when the governor’s office called two weeks ago.
“How soon can you start?” the aide asked.
Nobody in his office saw it coming. Bastine himself didn’t know how to react. Having never sought public office before, he put his name in the hat, at the urging of friends and colleagues.
Now, he must run for a full four-year term this fall, but it is more or less a formality. There is no opposition. The filing deadline passed Friday afternoon without any heartburn.
Lawyers and judges applaud Gov. Mike Lowry’s appointment, citing Bastine’s integrity, compassion and fairness.
“He’s interested in the law, he’s very thorough and he has an absolute sense of fairness,” says retired federal magistrate Smithmoore Myers, who once worked with Bastine.
“Paul really, really believes that equal justice is the foundation of civilized society,” says Jim Bamberger, director of Spokane Legal Services.
“You will not find anybody who will say Paul Bastine is a jerk or selfish or egocentric. He is a total public citizen - a person of extreme integrity and a person who is committed to the law in its largest sense,” Bamberger says.
Myers couldn’t agree more.
“I don’t think there’s any chance he’ll get judge-itis. He’s a very public-spirited person. He’s interested in the underdog.”
“He’s the logical choice” for the trial court, said Court of Appeals Judge John Schultheis. “He should have been interested in it earlier because of his dedication to public service and his ability.”
The volunteer work started early.
In 1964, when Bastine graduated from Gonzaga Law School, most of his classmates rushed out to land jobs and start making money.
He joined the Peace Corps, spending two years as a volunteer in a dirt-poor region of northeastern Brazil. He taught natives who lived in mud huts how to stop the spread of disease, helped them build outhouses and rudimentary water systems.
The experience opened Bastine’s eyes to poverty that runs so deep that escaping it is virtually impossible. “It changed the course of my life,” he says.
Bastine returned to America and married months later. Today, he and Jan, a teacher and former Central Valley School Board member, have two children: Patricia, 26, and Kenneth, 25.
His career started as a Spokane County deputy prosecutor. Just nine months later, he switched to civil law, accepting an offer at a downtown law firm.
In the early ‘70s, following a merger, Bastine found himself working as a partner in one of Spokane’s biggest law firms, now Lukins and Annis. His office was on the 16th floor of the Washington Trust tower, where he faithfully cranked out 180 billable hours a month.
Bastine walked away from the high-rent prestige in 1978. He wanted to spend more time with his family and have more contact with ordinary people - not just wealthy clients.
He joined two other lawyers in opening a Spokane Valley office on East Sprague. Bastine made financial sacrifices, devoting large chunks of time to his advocacy of legal aid programs threatened by federal budget cuts. The threat has never lifted.
His efforts were honored this spring, when he received Gonzaga Law School’s Distinguished Service Award for public service.
“Legal services,” Bastine says, “are really the foundation of our democratic society. The access that all people must have to good and appropriate legal services determine how successful we can make the democratic process work. The system has to work for everyone.”
For a seasoned lawyer, Bastine eschews some of the usual trappings. He doesn’t belong to a country club and has no interest in golf. His favorite method of relaxation is hammering nails. He built his Priest Lake cabin from the foundation up, a talent honed in the Peace Corps.
As a rookie jurist, he admits being short of experience in criminal law, a void he is eager to fill. He was disappointed when a possession-of-stolen-property case, slated for trial Monday morning, dissolved into a plea bargain instead.
Bastine has no qualms about the death penalty. He has considerable empathy for the poor and the drug-addicted, and he supports the proposed Spokane County Drug Court that would emphasize treatment over prison for first-time offenders.
At the same time, he believes criminals must be held accountable.
“I have strong feelings about people being responsible for their own actions,” he says.
Ask him if he’s a liberal and watch him laugh. He reveres John F. Kennedy, but Gonzaga’s Jesuit influence, he says, infused him with unshakable conservative values.
“I’m a fair person,” he says, gauging his own judicial abilities.
“I think I have the respect of the bar as being a person they trust and have confidence in. I have compassion for people. Most of all, I’ve got pretty good common sense.”
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