Robyn Brody’s law office in downtown Rupert is right next door to the police station and not far from the courthouse and City Hall. “I get a lot of walk-in traffic,” she said.
It could be someone needing help appealing their unemployment decision, or seeking information on how to get a marriage license. Her law practice includes that work, plus water law, an array of business clients, major real estate transactions, and representing a local hospital, several community health centers and two school districts.
“I’ve spent my entire career serving people,” Brody said, adding, “I think my rural ties bring a unique perspective.” She’s among four candidates seeking an open seat on the Idaho Supreme Court – which currently is all-male, and hasn’t had a female justice in nearly a decade.
“While I’ve never tried to make gender my issue, I think I would bring a unique perspective to the bench that’s missing,” she said, “and hopefully act as a catalyst for other women to join the Idaho judiciary.” Currently, she noted, just 18 percent of Idaho judges are women.
“Frankly, I think it’s time that a woman be back on the bench,” Brody said. “I’d also like to see someone from rural Idaho there.”
She said, “I speak rural Idaho. The first vehicle I ever drove was my grandfather’s tractor.”
Asked what she thinks of the current court, Brody said, “There’s one thing I’d like to be able to sit down with them and talk about, and that is the tenor and demeanor of the court. I think lawyers are frustrated, not so much with the decisions as the tone.”
It’s not uncommon for lawyers arguing before the Idaho Supreme Court to face sharp questioning, and even to be targeted with direct criticism in opinions, particularly from outspoken Justice Daniel Eismann. In some decisions, justices have openly criticized each other or lower-court judges.
“I think lawyers feel like some of the opinions have been overly personalized,” Brody said.
Brody, 46, grew up moving around a lot, because both her parents worked for United Airlines, her dad as a ramp man and her mom in a flight kitchen. The family landed in Denver when she was 12, and she attended the University of Denver on a speech and debate scholarship. By chance she studied Russian, because Spanish, which she’d studied for four years in high school, didn’t fit into her schedule.
Midway through her undergraduate studies, the Berlin wall came down, and a new era opened in international trade and relations. She graduated with a degree in international studies and Russian area studies, and spent a year in St. Petersburg, teaching 10th grade English and studying Russian. It was an experience that opened her eyes to a very different system and way of life.
“We don’t recognize what we have – we take it for granted,” she said earnestly. In St. Petersburg, authorities routinely pulled people over and not only demanded ID, but also to know where a person was going, who they were with and why. People were hauled away at gunpoint. The only Western business in the city was a Baskin-Robbins. It was normal to walk along a sidewalk and suddenly come upon a big, deep hole, with no warning.
“Nobody thought to put up a barrier to keep somebody from falling in,” Brody said. “We take all these things for granted.”
In contrast, she said, we’re all free to walk into any government building and demand to see public documents, and get them. “We don’t recognize how powerful that is, and how blessed we are,” she said.
When she returned from Russia, Brody enrolled in a dual-degree program at the University of Denver to get both a law degree and a master’s degree in international management. While in law school, she worked as a Russian translator for companies involved in uranium brokerage, building potato processing plants and more. Eastern Europe was opening to western investment.
But her husband, a lawyer and University of Colorado grad, had worked in Idaho and fallen in love with the state; the couple moved to Twin Falls.
Brody got her first job at a small but prominent law firm, Hepworth Lezamiz and Hohnhorst. “They were just preeminent lawyers and had an amazing practice,” she said. “It was a small firm, so from the get-go I had the chance to work on high-quality cases with high-quality opposing counsel. I learned the craft.”
She said, “From the beginning I was taking depositions and arguing motions. It was an incredible place to be a lawyer.”
Within three years, she was a partner; she stayed with the firm for 13 years. But by that point, she and her family were living in Rupert and had two little boys; her mother, who had moved to Idaho when her first son was born, had breast cancer. Brody felt she couldn’t spend two hours a day commuting any more.
“I just needed to be closer to home,” she said. “So I made the decision to open up my own firm there in Rupert.”
Her office is in the historic and restored Wilson Theater Building; she’s built a thriving and broad practice over the past six years. Among her recent cases: Closing a $3.5 million real estate deal for a FedEx cargo facility at the Twin Falls airport.
She’s never applied for an Idaho district or magistrate court judgeship; she notes that those are very different jobs from the role of a Supreme Court justice, which she said better matches her skill set.
“People ask me: Why the Supreme Court?” Her answer: “Why not the Supreme Court?” she said. “In my world, I feel like I was made for the job. Maybe in your life you would call it vocation or a calling, whatever word you use, it fits. It fits me.”
Brody said, “I love thinking about the law, talking about the law.” In law school, she wasn’t on the mock trial team, she said; she was on the travelling appellate team. “It’s what makes my heart sing.”
When Chief Justice Jim Jones announced he’d retire after his current term, Brody decided to run for the high court. “An open court seat is such a rare opportunity,” she said. “I feel like after 20 years, I’ve got something to offer.”
She’s been running an active and spirited campaign, traveling all over the state, “literally from Porthill to St. Anthony,” she said. She’s spoken to Republican groups, Democratic groups, service organizations, “anyone who’ll listen,” she said. Her reception, she said, has been “amazing – the people of Idaho, they have welcomed me and wanted to talk.”
Coming from near Twin Falls County, the pilot county for the installation of a major new computerized court management system for the state, Brody has focused on that change more than the other three candidates, calling it the biggest challenge facing Idaho’s courts.
“We have 44 counties,” she said. “We have one that is in the middle of it, and we’re going to start on Ada County this summer. It is an enormous task. The staff is limited, the resources are limited. … You’re asking people to change the way they’ve been doing it for decades, and we’ve got to do it in a timely fashion, otherwise the technology that we’ve paid for will be out of date.”
She said with the installation in Twin Falls County, things have changed quickly. “For my own practice, just the savings in postage is enormous, the savings in time,” she said. “Technology is a powerful, powerful took, and we have just been too slow to convert.”
Asked what kind of justice she’d be, Brody, after a pause, says, “Thoughtful, deliberate, even-handed and fair.”
She said her biggest surprise of the campaign so far has been the lack of information that people have, “Even just the election process itself – understanding that Idaho citizens have the right to vote for our Supreme Court justices,” she said.
A past president of the Fifth District Bar Association and 2014 recipient of the Idaho State Bar’s Professionalism Award, she wrote in a recent campaign flier mailed out to Idaho homes, “I believe in the rights provided by our Constitution as well as due process of law. As your Idaho Supreme Court justice, I promise to always fairly apply the law, never legislative from the bench, provide accountability for taxpayers, and work hard to keep our families safe.”
John Lezamiz, a retired Twin Falls attorney who worked closely with Brody for a dozen years at his firm, said, “Robyn is very much a stare decisis person.” That’s the Latin phrase for the doctrine of precedent – to stand by things decided. “She’s definitely going to follow precedent. … She would be somebody who would follow what the law has been, instead of going off into areas of what she would like it to be.”
He called her “intelligent, smart, hard-working, honest – she’s just a very capable gal. … I can’t say enough good things about Robyn.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.