March 6, 2012 in City, News

Senate confirms Rice as next federal judge

By The Spokesman-Review

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Rice’s appointment to the federal judiciary was confirmed today by the U.S. Senate.

Rice, who teamed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington in the prosecution of domestic terrorist Kevin W. Harpham, replaces U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley in the Eastern District. Whaley has entered senior status.

Rice was nominated by President Barack Obama last June and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last October.

However, Republicans blocked the full approval for four months. In the end, the final tally was 93-4.

“This kind of obstruction is wrong, it hurts families’ ability to access the courts in a timely fashion, and it puts politics ahead of our justice system,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, told the Senate.

Murray said Rice is a distinguished attorney with a deep connection to Eastern Wasington.

“He has gone above and beyond his duties: volunteering additional hours at the office, taking on extra cases, and establishing the local Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council,” she said.

Rice received a degree in accounting from Gonzaga University, then returned for his law degree, she said. He worked at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. then returned to Spokane where he eventually managed the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Efforts to reach Rice were not immediately successful.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, told her colleagues that Rice has wide support from his peers.

“He’s one of our rising legal stars and has left his mark defending the community he was born in,” said Cantwell in comments provided by her office.

Rice and Harrington recently prosecuted Harpham, who pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and targeting minorities. Harpham admitted leaving a bomb along the planned route of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March in downtown Spokane.

“For nearly 25 years he has served in the United States Attorney’s office in Eastern Washington and in that time he’s successfully prosecuted a variety of criminal cases to protect our Eastern Washington communities,” Cantwell said.

Spokesman reporter Phoebe Zhang contributed to this report.

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