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E. Washington federal judge appointment coming soon

President Barack Obama is expected to make his nomination soon for the next federal judge for the Eastern District of Washington.

The opening became available in mid-2009 when U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley announced his intention to take senior status, which allows him to hear as many or as few cases as he chooses as part of the lifetime appointment.

With the vacancy open, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in December forwarded to the president for consideration the names of Spokane attorney Les Weatherhead, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice and Wenatchee attorney Stanley Bastian.

Alex Glass, spokeswoman for Murray, said this week that the appointment process normally takes about four months but could be delayed based on the president’s schedule.

In the meantime, Whaley has kept a busy docket including taking some cases for slain Arizona U.S. District Judge John Roll, who was killed during the same shooting in January that injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Whaley said he is familiar with all three candidates and would endorse any one of them to succeed him as federal judge.

“Tom will be a good federal judge if he’s appointed and confirmed. I think Les and Stan are extremely respected lawyers. Stan Bastian was the president of the Bar Association and has been in my court a number of times,” Whaley said.

Rice said he could not comment about any aspect of the search. But his former boss, Jim McDevitt, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said, “I just think the world of Tom. He was my right hand and left hand when I was U.S. Attorney. He’s bright, eloquent, ethical and committed. If he is appointed, it would be bad news for the Department of Justice because they would lose one fine prosecutor. But, it certainly would be a gain for the bench.”

Weatherhead, of the law firm Witherspoon Kelley, said he inquired about a month ago into the status of the selection process.

“I’m not going to be nominated,” said Weatherhead, who represents Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review. “I was told by Senator Murray’s office … that the White House was not saying who it was but it would not be me. They gave me the courtesy, which I appreciated. But I’ve got a great day job, so it’s alright.”

Bastian, who represented Douglas County in the widely publicized and now-discredited Wenatchee child sex abuse cases, was out of the office Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

According to news archives, Douglas County was found liable to pay millions of dollars in damages in a civil suit brought following a series of investigations in the mid-1990s that purported to uncover a massive sex ring in the Wenatchee area. Forty-three people were charged with more than 29,000 counts of sexual abuse involving some 50 children, but most of the convictions were overturned on appeal.