Arrow-right Camera
Opinion

Editorial Endorsement: Keep Szambelan on the bench

When pondering their choice for Spokane County Superior Court, voters would do well to remember Gov. Jay Inslee’s words when he appointed the current occupant of the seat, Shelley Szambelan, last February:

“Shelley is smart, compassionate and committed to justice. She has earned the respect of the community through her work and her long history of legal and community service in the Spokane area,” Inslee said in a news release at the time.

Szambelan is being challenged by Dennis Cronin, a longtime attorney who is also well-respected. Cronin was one of the candidates Inslee considered before picking Szambelan to fill the seat vacated by retired Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins.

Each of the candidates has plenty of support. City Council President Ben Stuckart likes them both, though he’s listed as a Szambelan supporter on her website. “I’ve had really good experiences with Judge Szambelan as a Municipal Court judge. I think she’s excellent,” he said. “But I also think Dennis Cronin is great as well. I think he’s really knowledgeable.”

Cronin says he is running partly because he thinks the court has an image problem. “This has been endemic now for some time that the system is dysfunctional over there,” Cronin said. “Perhaps it shouldn’t be a judiciary that looks more like a fortress judiciary, over there in the fort, or the castle, where citizens are searched without a warrant when they go through the door.”

What’s not clear is exactly how Cronin thinks he can solve that problem. Move the court? Stop searching witnesses and spectators at criminal proceedings? Szambelan agrees with some of Cronin’s concerns, but notes that judges aren’t policymakers. Judges can, and should, address issues like jail overcrowding, she says, but larger reform issues need to be addressed by other public officials not restrained by judicial ethical concerns.

In other words, Cronin might be more effective in reforming the court if he isn’t sitting on the bench.

Both candidates have decades of experience in the legal community, but Szambelan’s experience is far broader.

Cronin worked for civil rights attorney Carl Maxey out of college and established his own law firm in 2003. He’s been in private practice his entire career.

Szambelan worked in private practice, but also served in the Spokane city prosecutor’s office and as dean of Washington State Judicial College. She sat on the Spokane Municipal Court for nine years. She is a member of the Washington State Ethics Advisory Committee.

Szambelan has earned the respect of her judicial colleagues. Nine sitting Superior Court judges have endorsed her, as have all eight District Court judges and three Municipal Court judges. Retired Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor wrote a letter to the editor endorsing her, saying, “She is hard working, fair and has an excellent judicial temperament.”

O’Connor also pointed out Cronin’s limited judicial experience, which consists of a stint as a court commissioner pro tem in Superior Court, where he occasionally filled in for absent court commissioners. This is his first run for office.

The Spokane County Bar Association rated Szambelan exceptionally well qualified. Cronin, for some reason, refused to participate in the judicial evaluation process.

Despite his lack of judicial experience, Cronin is a strong challenger in this race, pouring a lot of his own money into the campaign and outspending Szambelan by nearly a 3-to-1 margin. He has earned respect and allies through his lengthy record of work with Spokane’s African-American community.

Cronin does have an impressive résumé, serving as chair of the Spokane Ethics Commission and former chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission, and his decades of community service should not be overlooked.

But Szambelan has a proven record on the bench. She has demonstrated the qualities and temperament of an excellent judge. She is a dedicated, impartial jurist who has served with distinction and integrity. Voters should keep her where she is.


Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter

There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com

You have been successfully subscribed!