Judge John Bradbury, of Lewiston, long has been a self-described “burr under their saddle” to Idaho’s upper-echelon judicial establishment.
An advocate of electing rather than appointing judges, he ran against a sitting Idaho Supreme Court justice in 2008 and nearly won.
Most Idaho judges get into office before standing for re-election as incumbents. Most judges resign or retire before the end of their terms to allow that to happen; the Idaho Judicial Council screens and recommends appointees to the governor.
“The one luxury that I have is I owe no one anything for my being a judge – I owe no one except the people that elected me,” Bradbury said. In 2001, Bradbury sued the council because he didn’t like the way it dismissed an ethics complaint he filed against a Supreme Court justice without telling him why. He charged that the council’s extensive secrecy rules for judicial discipline cases were unconstitutional; he lost.
He’s also a well-respected judge in his district, known for operating three drug courts and two mental health courts and traveling extensively throughout the district to hold court where the people live.
“He’s afraid of no one, and he just does what he thinks right at any given moment in time,” said Bob Huntley, who served 14 years on the Idaho Judicial Council and then seven as an Idaho Supreme Court justice. “Bradbury is one of the most diligent district judges that we have, as far as timeliness of entering his decisions, and decisiveness and intellectual discipline.”
Bradbury, 72, has twice been elected to his 2nd District judgeship. A native of Orofino, Idaho, and a Korean War veteran, he practiced law in Alaska and Washington before returning to Idaho in 1989. He was first elected judge in 2002, defeating a district judge.
The pending ethics complaint against Bradbury, which could cost him his judgeship, charges that he doesn’t really live in Idaho County, one of three counties where he presides. He owns homes there and in Lewiston, which is in Nez Perce County.
Bradbury, who has tried for four years to amend the residency law, says he stays at whichever home is closest to where he must preside on a particular day. The law says he must “actually reside” in Idaho County.
Bradbury contends he’s being unfairly targeted for just trying to serve his judicial district well – and for his outspoken reformism. The offense for which he faces removal from office – improper residency – is “uncommon, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard of it,” said Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics of the American Judicature Society. “Michigan actually has a case pending before their Supreme Court.”
Said Bradbury, “They don’t want me – they’re trying to make it so difficult I will resign. They do not want anyone who questions the system – they’ve never had it, they’re not used to it, and by God they’re going to stop it in its tracks. The fact is, the system needs some improvement.”