January 3, 2009 in City

Municipal Court judges confirmed, sworn in

All three plan to run in this year’s election
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane’s new Municipal Court is open for business.

The Spokane City Council on Friday appointed Tracy Staab, Shelley Szambelan and Mary Logan as the new court’s first judges.

“I want the community to be assured that they have quality times three,” said Logan, whose appointment was unanimous. “We are going to be looking out for the best interests of this community.”

The judges were sworn in by Judge John A. Schultheis, of the Washington State Court of Appeals, in a brief ceremony in City Council chambers following votes confirming their appointments by Mayor Mary Verner. The three were scheduled to begin hearing cases less than two hours later.

Each will earn $120,394 a year.

Spokane leaders rushed to create the court after deciding to separate from the county’s District Court only a month ago.

Councilman Bob Apple cast the lone vote against Staab’s and Szambelan’s appointments. He opposed Staab’s appointment because she lives outside city limits. He said he voted against Szambelan because her husband is an assistant city attorney, creating a possible conflict of interest.

Council President Joe Shogan said the quality of a candidate is more important than residency. There is no legal requirement for judges to live in the city.

Staab said she recently moved from the city and wasn’t considering moving back.

“I am 100 percent accountable to city residents, because only city residents vote,” Staab said.

Szambelan noted that as an assistant city attorney, her husband handles civil cases in Superior Court. If he had to appear in Municipal Court, he wouldn’t be allowed to practice in her courtroom, she said: “It’s really a non-issue.”

Initially, the city required judge applicants to have a degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. Logan earned hers from Monterey College of Law, which is not accredited by that group.

City Administrator Ted Danek said requirements were changed “within hours” of them appearing on the city’s Web site to align with qualifications required of Spokane County District Court judges. County judges don’t need degrees from colleges accredited by the American Bar Association.

The requirement as it originally appeared on the city’s Web site was “just a typo,” Danek said.

The president of the Spokane County Bar Association this week called all the new judges “extremely well qualified.”

All three judges have said they plan to run in this year’s election in hopes of keeping their jobs in the new court, which is in the annex of the Spokane County Courthouse.

One of the judges’ first goals is to appoint two court commissioners, who will also hear cases. The judges said they hope to conduct interviews within the next week.

Spokane County District Court Commissioner Brad Chinn is under consideration for one of the posts. Verner originally picked Chinn for a judgeship, but she withdrew that nomination because support on City Council was uncertain.

Some council members questioned Chinn’s challenge of a planned office tower complex near his home, suggesting his appeal of the development near his home – which he filed as a private citizen and will be considered by the council – could create a conflict of interest.

The new judges said the Municipal Court will work to develop alternatives to incarceration. Staab added that the court has received tremendous support from city workers within the court system, such as clerks, public defenders and prosecutors.

“We are just thankful to have this opportunity to create something and implement some of the changes that they have been suggesting,” Staab said.

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


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