Citing frustration with liberal judges, Spokane County commissioners appointed a lock-‘em-up conservative to the District Court bench Thursday.
The choice was Mike Padden, a lawyer-lawmaker who has represented the Valley’s 4th Legislative District for 14 years.
The Republican representative called the appointment “something special” because he succeeds his mentor and former law partner, Raymond Tanksley Jr., who died of cancer.
“It’s a big step, and I’m pleased and sort of overwhelmed at the same time,” Padden said.
Commission Chairman Skip Chilberg noted Padden’s legislative experience and endorsements, including one from state Supreme Court Justice Richard Guy.
“Mike has the maturity and the judgment that we were looking for,” said Chilberg, the commission’s lone Democrat. “There was also a feeling and a recognition that the courts have been a little more liberal than the public tends to view matters.”
Fellow Commissioner Steve Hasson echoed that sentiment.
“I was enamored with his conservative background,” he said of Padden, who opposes abortion and has called for the death penalty for hard-core juvenile offenders.
“There’s just such a liberal judiciary in our country,” Hasson added, “so anything I can do …”
Twenty-one candidates had applied for the $92,000-a-year judgeship.
Commissioners spent two hours Thursday questioning three finalists - Padden and criminal defense lawyers Scott Mason and Greg Sypolt. Fifteen minutes after Sypolt had left the room, commissioners were congratulating Padden.
Padden said he will resign from the Legislature immediately to help tackle a growing court backlog of misdemeanor and traffic cases.
The Republican Party will submit three names to county commissioners, who will choose Padden’s replacement.
Padden, 48, must run in this fall’s election to win a full four-year term on the bench.
He has been practicing law for more than 20 years. Tanksley hired him first as a law clerk, then as a young attorney.
“I don’t pretend to be able to fill his shoes,” Padden said.
He pledged to commissioners that he would be fair and not allow his beliefs to color his rulings.
“I don’t feel it’s the responsibility of a judge to make the law - that’s the prerogative of the Legislature,” he said.
Asked how he would improve the court, Padden said he favors increased use of dispute-resolution services and closed-circuit TV arraignments as well as aggressive collection of traffic fines.
Padden received low marks from local lawyers, finishing 17th in a bar association poll. On Thursday, he accused lawyers of holding his political views against him.
Runners-up Mason and Sypolt, who work in the county public defender’s office, tied for third place in the bar ratings.
Mason, 39, a lawyer since 1981, ran unsuccessfully last fall against District Judge Donna Wilson. Sypolt, 45, has been practicing law for 17 years. He ran for a District Court seat in 1984, losing to Judge Richard J. Richard.
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