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McKenzie withdraws as interviews near for new Idaho Supreme Court justice

UPDATED: Thu., July 20, 2017, 10:24 p.m.

Former state Sen. Curt McKenzie speaks at a forum on Sept. 20, 2016, when he was running for the Idaho Supreme Court; he was defeated by current Justice Robyn Brody. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Former state Sen. Curt McKenzie speaks at a forum on Sept. 20, 2016, when he was running for the Idaho Supreme Court; he was defeated by current Justice Robyn Brody. (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – Former state Sen. Curt McKenzie, who drew 46 percent of the vote but lost to Robyn Brody in the last election for an open Idaho Supreme Court seat, has withdrawn his name from consideration for the next opening, to replace retiring Justice Daniel Eismann.

“I just didn’t feel like the timing was right,” McKenzie said, “because the person who wins that will have to run for election next year, basically the next election cycle. … I just didn’t feel like I wanted to run again in that time frame, that soon.”

“I want to focus on my firm and get that taken care of and paid off,” said McKenzie, who reported nearly $75,000 in outstanding campaign debt at the close of 2016.

With McKenzie’s withdrawal, there still are more than a dozen hopefuls who will be interviewed next week by the Idaho Judicial Council for the Supreme Court justice position. They include six sitting district judges, one Idaho Court of Appeals judge, and six attorneys from around the state.

The interviews, which will take place in the Idaho Supreme Court’s courtroom Tuesday and Wednesday, are open to the public.

Among the 13 applicants, two are from North Idaho: St. Maries attorney Andrew Doman and 2nd District Judge John Stegner of Moscow.

Court of Appeals Judge Sergio Gutierrez, who will be interviewed on Tuesday, also ran against McKenzie and Brody for the open seat in 2016, but placed third in a four-way primary. That led to a runoff in November in which Brody defeated McKenzie. Gutierrez, who was Idaho’s first Latino judge, ran on a platform of improving court access for all Idahoans.

The other applicants who are sitting judges are 5th District Judge Richard Bevan of Twin Falls; 7th District Judge Gregory Moeller of Rexburg; 7th District Judge Joel Tingey of Idaho Falls; 3rd District Judge Susan Wiebe of Fruitland; and 4th District Judge Jason Scott of Boise.

The lawyer applicants, in addition to Doman, are David Hamilton of Twin Falls; Steven Price, general counsel for the Ada County Highway District in Garden City; Rebecca Rainey of Boise; Jeffrey Thomson of Boise; and Wade Woodard of Boise, who made the short list for a 4th District judgeship in April but wasn’t the final pick.

Eismann announced in April that he’d retire in August after serving on the high court since 2001. His six-year term expires at the end of 2018. The new justice who is selected to replace him will take office in August, and then be up for election for a full six-year term, starting Jan. 1, 2019, in the May 2018 primary election. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, the position would go to a runoff in the November 2018 general election.

The high court opening initially drew 15 applicants, but another applicant, Boise attorney Michelle Points, current president of the Idaho State Bar, withdrew her name from consideration two weeks ago, before the interviews were scheduled.

McKenzie said it’s an impressive group of applicants, calling it a “great list.” He said, “I think there’s just a good batch of people and they’ll do a good job.”

Qualifications to be an Idaho Supreme Court justice include being at least 30 years old; having lived in Idaho continuously for at least two years; being a citizen and registered voter; having been in good standing as a member of the Idaho State Bar for at least two years; and having held a license to practice law or a judicial office for at least 10 years.

Each applicant is scheduled for a 30-minute public interview by the Idaho Judicial Council. In addition, the council will review results of a survey of Idaho attorneys and the public about the candidates’ qualifications, and conduct its own detailed background checks. The council will recommend a short list of finalists to Gov. Butch Otter; he’ll make the appointment from among those finalists.


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