Arrow-right Camera

Spokane

Superior Court Race Boasts ‘Solid Field’ Candidates Moe, Cozza, Ryan Share Similar Backgrounds

Thu., Aug. 29, 1996, midnight

Three men with strong Spokane ties and similar legal experience hope they can convince county voters that each is the best qualified to fill a vacancy in Superior Court.

The candidates for the job come highly regarded within the legal community - Superior Court Commissioner Royce Moe, District Court Judge Sam Cozza and Spokane attorney Terence Ryan.

The three share similar backgrounds and know each other well - two even go to the same church.

They’re seen in the legal community as experienced attorneys and good judicial material.

“They’re a solid field of people who’ve spent a good amount of time participating in the work judges do,” said state Court of Appeals Judge Dennis Sweeney.

The race is the only contested one in Spokane County Superior Court, with the winner taking the $99,015-a-year job left by the retiring Judge Thomas Merryman.

All three have worked on both sides of the bench - serving as pro-tem (fillin) judges as well as putting in time arguing cases as courtroom lawyers.

All say they’d like to find ways to knock down the load of cases to help citizens get justice sooner and more effectively.

Criminal filings have nearly tripled since 1979 in Superior Court, while the number of judges has stayed the same.

If one of the three wins a majority of votes in the Sept. 17 primary, the race is over. If not, the top two will square off in the November election.

Moe. One of five Superior Court commissioners, Moe handles a variety of civil, family law disputes and juvenile matters. He’s been in the job for eight years.

The 49-year-old Moe is making his second run at a Superior Court position. Two years ago, he came in second to Tari Eitzen, the second woman elected to a Superior Court judgeship in Spokane County.

Moe said he would help change the way court cases are managed in order to streamline the caseload. He sees a team approach having value - helping develop better communication between private attorneys, the court and the prosecutor’s office.

He said he helped launch a similar team effort in Juvenile Court over the past two years.

“We’ve been able to reduce the time it takes young offenders to move through the court from 70 days to about 30,” Moe said.

Cozza. The 41-year-old Cozza is the homegrown attorney-turned judge in the group. But he’s the only candidate who didn’t get his law degree at Gonzaga - going to the University of Washington instead.

A Spokane County District Court judge for six years, Cozza first worked as a deputy prosecutor in Spokane County from 1981 to 1990.

As a district court judge, Cozza’s daily workload - family disputes, civil lawsuits and drunken driving charges - makes him better suited than Moe or Ryan for handling Superior Court responsibilities, he said.

He suggested finding cooperative efforts to reduce the time cases take in Superior Court.

“I’d like to see the court adopt the concept of a domestic violence court,” said Cozza. That would be a coalition of attorneys, judges and social agency workers who would try to move cases through the system more effectively, he said.

While his background as a prosecutor helps, Cozza said judges must be fair and impartial.

“The advocate sees things in blackand-white terms,” Cozza said. “The judge realizes that things aren’t that clear cut. There are more shades of gray.”

Ryan. Like Cozza, Ryan cut his legal teeth handling a variety of criminal cases as a deputy county prosecutor from 1972 to 1979.

Since 1979, Ryan has operated a solo private practice, handling mostly civil and criminal cases.

Cozza and Moe have run courtrooms for several years. Ryan hasn’t, but he has served off and on as a protem judge in both district and superior courts.

His sense of legal justice was developed, he added, by practicing or working as clerk for “some of the best judges we’ve had in Spokane County, like Judge (John) Lally and both Judge Kellys - Raymond and Marcus,” said Ryan.

“I’m running now because it’s the right time. I’m 50, and I think I’ve got the seasoning and the legal experience needed for that job,” he added.

He’d address the caseload problem by urging all 10 judges ins Superior Court to identify solutions.

One possible approach, he suggested, might be assigning a number of the judges to civil matters entirely.

“I’d also like to see if the court can give more priority to alternative dispute resolution” to reduce the number of lawsuits.

Ryan said he reached that conclusion after serving as arbitrator with Spokane County’s mandatory arbitration program.

, DataTimes MEMO: See individual profiles by name of candidate.

This sidebar appeared with the story: SUPERIOR COURT The job: Judges sit for four years, reviewing civil, criminal, juvenile and domestic relations cases. They also handle appeals of cases from Spokane District Court. The pay: Annual salary of $99,015.

See individual profiles by name of candidate.

This sidebar appeared with the story: SUPERIOR COURT The job: Judges sit for four years, reviewing civil, criminal, juvenile and domestic relations cases. They also handle appeals of cases from Spokane District Court. The pay: Annual salary of $99,015.



Click here to comment on this story »