Search Tony Hazel’s profile on Facebook and you’ll find a post from Steve Gleason, who on Monday congratulated his friend on becoming Spokane County’s newest Superior Court judge.
“Tony, you have been one of my very best friends since high school,” the post reads. “Despite the added layer of difficulty regarding my communication ability (due to ALS), we’ve remained close. I’d like to think that I know you better than almost anyone.”
Hazel – a Spokane native and prosecutor for 13 years – has many notable friends from the area. He knows former Gonzaga basketball star Adam Morrison, who came to Hazel’s swearing-in ceremony on Friday.
And he’s been close friends with Gleason ever since they met freshman year at Gonzaga Prep.
But he has many more friends in the legal community, including the late Judge Sam Cozza, who died in January. To his surprise, Cozza’s wife, Megan Cozza, called Hazel the day after her husband died and told him he should throw his hat in the ring.
“I was very touched by that,” Hazel said. “So I applied.”
On April 11, Gov. Jay Inslee selected Hazel to fill the final spot on the 12-person bench, where he’ll sit until 2020, when he will be up for re-election.
It’s a big move for Hazel, who admits he’s “pretty nervous.”
“I want to be a judge that knows the law, follows the law, and gives everyone a fair chance in my courtroom,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated judges who are professional and courteous and who didn’t let the robe go to their head.”
He’s from a family of lawyers – his great-grandfather, grandfather, uncle, cousin and brother included.
“I was exposed to the law at a young age,” Hazel said, speaking from his empty courtroom office, the walls and tables bare save for a black gavel with “Hazel” engraved on it and a few loose stacks of paper. “And by and large, the passion has always been to be a public servant.”
Hazel graduated from Gonzaga University and the Gonzaga School of Law and spent a year in Yakima before moving back to Spokane, where he’s been a deputy prosecutor for 13 years. The bulk of his career has been major crimes, where he worked most recently under prosecutor Larry Haskell.
The bulk of his experience is in criminal prosecutions, he said. Hazel helped establish the identity theft task force in Spokane and has handled multiple homicide cases.
“I chose that profession primarily because that position is significant to do a lot of justice,” he said. “Including not only prosecuting people who are dangerous, but making sure the wrong people aren’t prosecuted.”
But it’s his work on criminal justice reform that has given Hazel the most pride.
When Mayor David Condon was first elected in 2011, Hazel was asked to lead the public safety transition team. He was also on a panel that helped revive the Regional Law and Justice Council, where he leads the court’s subcommittee with Judge Maryann Moreno.
“Thankfully I get to continue on that role,” he said.
Following his swearing-in ceremony at the Gonzaga School of Law Friday, Hazel will start to judge criminal, civil and juvenile cases. He’ll settle into a more permanent schedule in July.
Once he’s up for re-election, he said he plans to run.
“I plan to be a judge for a long time,” he said.
Judge Michael Price, who swore in Hazel on Friday, said the bench is pleased to have him – especially because he’ll fill the void Judge Cozza left as the resident Gonzaga Bulldogs fan.
“I always said Judge Cozza was the No. 1 Zags fan in the world,” Price said, “which would make Tony Hazel the second-biggest fan in the world.”
As for Gleason, he’s just happy for his friend.
“I love Spokane and the Inland Empire, because of people like you, Tony,” he wrote. “Thank you for your wisdom, and for serving the people of Spokane County as our Superior Court Judge.”