January 11, 2009 in City

Federal judge screening process under way

Secrecy abounds, but sources suggest choice will be first female
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The process to appoint a new federal judge for Eastern Washington is well under way, and three finalists for the lifetime post could be named as early as this week.

The new judge, who will be appointed by Barack Obama after he becomes president on Jan. 20, likely will be a woman, according to a host of sources tracking the process.

The new Democratic president is expected to accept the recommendation from the state’s two Democratic senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, according to those familiar with the process.

The two senators have let it be known they would like to see the first woman named to the federal bench for the Eastern District of Washington, according to sources.

“There’s a very good likelihood it will be a woman,” said one judge familiar with the process.

The two senators’ staffs were more circumspect when asked about that.

“We want a pool of the most-qualified candidates,” said Cantwell spokeswoman Ciaran Clayton when asked if the senators were leaning toward naming a woman.

Semifinalists for the judicial appointment include Rosanna M. Peterson, Laurel Siddoway, C. Matthew Anderson and Bill Etter, all attorneys practicing in Spokane, and Stanley A. Bastian, a Wenatchee attorney and former president of the state bar association, various sources told The Spokesman-Review.

No one providing information about the process was willing to be quoted by name.

The selection process, which began last fall, has been largely shrouded in secrecy.

The announcement of the judicial appointment process was made last fall after Judge Fred Van Sickle announced he would take “senior status” – a form of semi-retirement that allows federal judges to take as many or as few cases as they want while remaining active members of the bench.

Only the names of the two co-chairmen of the “bipartisan selection committee,” Michael Ormsby, of Spokane, and John Schultz, of Kennewick, were made public at the outset of the selection process.

Ormsby said last week he was “not at liberty” to divulge the names of the other four members appointed to the selection committee by the state’s two senators and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.

Murray’s staff later released the names of the other committee members.

Joining Ormsby as Democratic appointees to the selection committee are Kathryn McKinley, a Spokane attorney, and Andy Miller, Benton County prosecuting attorney.

The Republican appointees on the selection committee, besides Schultz, are Dale Foreman, of Wenatchee, and Richard Leland, a Spokane attorney. Foreman is a former state legislator and state GOP chairman.

Ormsby and others on the selection committee wouldn’t publicly discuss details, but reportedly more than two dozen people filled out a detailed application for the post before the Nov. 14 deadline.

Of that number, the selection committee picked nine applicants for in-person interviews, held last month in Moses Lake, according to various sources.

Federal prosecutors and defenders interested in the position were told that they wouldn’t make it past the first cut because of the time they’ve spent in federal court, three of those applicants said, although they were unwilling to be identified.

The staffs of the two senators didn’t directly respond when asked if federal prosecutors or federal defenders were being precluded from serious consideration.

Ormsby said he couldn’t release the names of the semifinalists or confirm names obtained from other sources.

Names of the three finalists picked by the committee should go to the offices of the state’s two senators this week, Ormsby said.

The Cantwell and Murray staffers said they would respond to requests to release the names of the three finalists once they are received in Washington, D.C.

The two senators, and perhaps Hastings, are expected to interview the three finalists, then most likely send one of those names to the White House where the formal appointment would occur, probably sometime this spring.


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