An attorney challenging an incumbent judge in the November election is highlighting an obscure 2015 report showing how often attorneys request different judges to hear their cases.
Civil attorney Ward Andrews is vying for the position held by Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins. Since her appointment in 1997 voters have given her several terms on the bench, usually in unopposed elections.
Andrews, who’s spent the last 12 years as in-house counsel for Farmer’s Insurance, says he’s seeking a judicial position because he wants to be able to help people.
But asked why he chose to challenge Tompkins in particular, he said a high number of attorneys requested to change judges when they were assigned to her court in 2015, when she worked as a plea judge.
Tompkins countered that her judicial evaluation for the Spokane County Bar Association offered a much better picture of her abilities as a judge. The bar association found her well-qualified for the job.
Andrews chose not to be evaluated, something Tompkins said needs to be questioned.
“My voters know who I am because they can read my evaluation,” she said. “We need to have a judge that has that kind of demeanor and integrity.”
According to a report from the court administrator’s office, 74 orders were filed changing the judge on a case from Tompkins to someone else from Jan. 1 to June 15, 2015. A total of 68 orders to change judge were filed for the other 11 Superior Court judges combined over the same period.
Most of those orders were the result of affidavits of prejudice filed by attorneys. An affidavit of prejudice is filed when an attorney believes a judge cannot be impartial in a case because the judge is prejudiced against either an attorney or their client. The first time an attorney files an affidavit in Superior Court, they are automatically granted a change of judge.
Tompkins says those numbers are being driven by a group of attorneys, chiefly prosecutors, who don’t want to appear before her. She said it’s possible some attorneys don’t like the fact that she sometimes deviates from the sentencing recommendations on plea deals, but otherwise said she didn’t want to speculate on their motives.
“They have that right and I don’t criticize them for it,” she said.
Asked why some prosecutors might not want to appear before Tompkins, chief deputy prosecutor Jack Driscoll said the office doesn’t track those requests.
“Each deputy prosecutor has the discretion to make that decision on their own. The change of judge form also only requires an assertion that they believe they cannot get a fair and impartial trial, without having to give any further reason,” Driscoll said in an email.
The report was created at the behest of presiding Judge Sam Cozza, who said the court was aware a number of affidavits had been filed by prosecuting and civil attorneys appearing before Tompkins.
“We wanted to get a picture of the number,” Cozza said in an email.
Cozza declined to say what action was taken as a result of the report or answer additional questions, saying only that no judicial assignments were changed. He has endorsed Tompkins in the election.
Andrews has not offered an explanation or speculation on why so many attorneys assigned to Tompkins’ court sought a change of judge and only discussed the issue briefly during an interview.
He previously sought appointment to a vacant Superior Court seat in 2015 and completed a judicial evaluation with the bar association. The bar association does not publicly release those reports in cases where judges are appointed, and Andrews declined to make the evaluation public, saying he’d prefer to let the voters decide how qualified he is.
The evaluation process includes submitting a legal writing sample, listing significant cases and providing a number of references, including opposing attorneys.
Though he’s a civil attorney, Andrews said he’s familiar with criminal rules and procedure because the insurance cases he works on often have complementary criminal cases.
“I will take the time to learn. I will study, I will prepare,” he said.
Tompkins said she remains committed to her job and said she’s proud of her advocacy for justice reform and diversity in the legal profession.
Early in her time on the bench, she presided over the county’s alternative drug court, where she said she learned putting people in jail to stop crime often backfires.
“My work on drug court taught me clearly the fallacy of that,” she said.
People who have committed a minor crime or two end up learning more about criminal behavior in jail and re-offend soon after release, she said.
Targeted approaches like drug court that deal with underlying issues while imposing clear consequences can help reduce recidivism for “folks on the fringes that have some glimmer of potential,” she said.
More recently, she presided over the 2013 trial where a jury ruled the Spokane Country Club was discriminating against female members by offering them inferior services for the same price of membership. One year later, she put the Spokane County Club under strict legal supervision, saying they were continuing to discriminate in spite of the ruling.
Tompkins also was the judge who issued an order in 2014 evicting the Spokane Downtown Daiquiri Factory and owner Jamie Pendleton for nonpayment of rent. That order was overturned on appeal.
Andrews said he supports justice reforms and would like to see the court continue to work on finding alternatives to incarceration for people with addiction issues and mental illness.
“Why are we spending $130 a night for these folks to stay in jail … if we can keep them out by pretrial diversion?” he said.
He’d like to use those reforms to free up court time so more civil cases can be heard. Currently, civil cases are often bumped to make time for criminal cases because judges have such high caseloads, he said.
Tompkins is endorsed by six other Superior Court judges, as well as city prosecutor Justin Bingham and assistant city public defender Francis Adewale.
Though he practices in municipal court and has never appeared before Tompkins, Bingham said he knows her well because her husband, Tony, is a city public defender. He’s also worked with her on the law and justice council.
“She’s always struck me as being very fair, even-keeled … very open to listening to all points of view,” he said.
All Superior Court judges endorsed Judge Greg Sypolt, who’s also running in a contested race this year. But a few Superior Court judges are not listed on either Tompkins or Andrews’ online lists of endorsements.
Tompkins said she’s only listed judges who reached out to her proactively and hasn’t actively solicited endorsements.
Tompkins has raised more than $33,000 for her campaign. Andrews has raised about $25,000.
Andrews has received a $250 contribution from the Spokane Police Guild and is endorsed by Spokane County deputy prosecutors Mark Cipolla and Kelly Fitzgerald, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, Yakima County Prosecutor Joseph Brusic, Lincoln County Prosecutor Jeff Barkdull, Spokane criminal defense attorney Rob Cossey and a number of other attorneys.
This story has been updated since it was published.
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