February 17, 2009 in City

Residence requirement proposed for judges

One appointee would be ineligible under new rule
By The Spokesman-Review
 

One of Spokane’s newly-appointed Municipal Court judges would be out of a job this fall under a new rule under consideration by the Spokane City Council.

City Councilman Bob Apple has proposed a requirement for all city judges to live within the city limits.

Of the three judges appointed to the city’s new Municipal Court at the start of the year, only Tracy Staab lives outside Spokane. She would be ineligible to run in the November election to maintain her judgeship under Apple’s proposal.

“You could pick people from other areas to rule over your cases,” Apple said. “But if you live in the community, you have more contact with the people that you are making decisions for.”

Apple’s proposal will be considered at a meeting on March 2.

State law allows municipal judges to live outside the city they serve in the kind of court system selected by Spokane late last year after it decided to separate from the Spokane County District Court.

To start the court, Mayor Mary Verner picked three judges who will serve at least until elections later this year. All three of Verner’s appointments, who were confirmed by the City Council, have said they plan to be candidates to maintain their seats.

The city left the county system after state courts ruled that city cases must be heard by judges elected only by city voters.

Presiding Spokane Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan said the city may not have the authority to create stricter eligibility standards.

“Unless the state statute is changed, I think that is the law we all have to live with,” Logan said.

She added that the judges appointed by Verner were vetted in interviews.

Those selected were found to have an “understanding of what it means to live within the city,” Logan said.

Staab said she lived within city limits for eight years before relocating west of the city in 2007. She said she “would have to talk to my family” about moving back if the residency requirement is approved.

“It’s just a proposal,” Staab said. “I’m going to wait to see what they do before I make any more comments.”

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she is leaning against Apple’s proposal because she believes Staab should be grandfathered from having to meet a new residency requirement. She noted that Staab quit her job as a federal defender believing that she would be eligible to run in the coming election.

McLaughlin also worries that attorneys who live outside the city and want to compete for a judgeship could sue the city.

“It makes sense to me that they should live within city limits because that would be consistent with all the other (elected city officials),” McLaughlin said. “I also am not inclined to set the taxpayers up for a litigation expense over this issue. I’d be more inclined to go to the state to change the state law.”

Apple said even if his plan isn’t approved, nonresidents likely won’t be on the court for long.

“If they choose to throw their hat in the ring and not live within the city of Spokane, my guess is the public will get word of who they are and they probably won’t have a prayer of a chance of winning if they do run.”

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.


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