March 7, 2012 in City

Senate OKs Rice for federal bench

Gonzaga graduate ran U.S. Attorney’s office
By The Spokesman-Review

(Full-size photo)

Spokane-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Rice’s appointment as a federal judge was confirmed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate.

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

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

Senate Republicans, however, blocked full approval for four months. In the end, the vote 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 called Rice a distinguished attorney with a deep connection to Eastern Washington.

“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 Tuesday were not successful.

U.S. Sen. 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,” Cantwell said in a news release.

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.

Phoebe Zhang, a graduate student in the University of Missouri School of Journalism Washington, D.C., Reporting Program, contributed to this report.

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