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Panel ranks lawyers for judgeship

A bar association committee says five lawyers who want to replace Spokane District Court Judge Richard White are exceptionally qualified.

Four of 18 applicants seeking the appointment by county commissioners are well qualified, eight are qualified and one isn’t, according to the 11-member Judicial Evaluation Panel of the Spokane County Bar Association.

After interviewing the applicants, the committee said former District Court Judge Harvey Dunham is not qualified for the job.

Read the rest of John Craig's story here.

Lawyers question new court fee system

A decision by Spokane County District Court to privatize the collection of all fines and fees, using the same company that handles its bad debts, is raising conflict-of-interest questions within the legal community.

Defense lawyers and advocates for the poor worry that PAR Acceptance Corp., hired by District Court in December to handle time-payment agreements, has an incentive to push past-due accounts into bad debt status as quickly as possible because it benefits its subsidiary, Valley Empire Collections.

Both companies are owned by Troy Peterson, a Spokane Valley businessman who’s made millions handling debt collection for courts in Spokane.

District Court officials say there’s nothing improper in the arrangement, noting that collection duties were outsourced to accommodate the elimination of several jobs due to county budget cuts.

Read Tom Clouse's full story here.


Judge says 'we're comfortable' with collections arrangement

District judges’ schedules hard to track

An effort to prevent political use of information about their daily duties seems to have backfired on Spokane County District Court judges.

Instead, they handed critics an opportunity to accuse them of being secretive. “What do they have to hide?” asked attorney Timothy Note, who is running against Judge Debra Hayes in the Nov. 2 general election. 

Note has raised questions during his campaign about how many days district judges actually work.

The judges decided at their Oct. 6 weekly meeting to quit distributing daily lineup sheets that indicate which judges are presiding over which dockets.

Read the rest of the story here.

Tim Note vs. District Court Judge Hayes

A young attorney who has big ideas on how to make court more efficient is taking on a one-term judge who said her life experiences have made her better at making tough decisions.

Defense attorney Timothy Note (left), 35, is challenging Spokane County District Court Judge Debra Hayes (right) in the Spokane area’s only contested judicial race on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Hayes, 54, cited her four years of experience on the job, life experiences and community service. “I think that looking at the two of us, it is a pretty clear choice,” Hayes said. “I’m committed to being a fair and impartial judge.”

But Note, an attorney since 2004, said he has more than 100 fellow lawyers endorsing his campaign to bring more structure and accountability to District Court.

“My platform is not endearing me to the judges who are working there,” Note said. “But at some point, the gravy train needs to end and we need to get back to the people’s work.”

Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.

Shooting suspect’s mom: He can’t stay here

When a judge ruled that a 19-year-old man arrested after a shooting at Hoopfest Saturday deserved a substantial bond, she noted that his mother has said he isn’t welcome at home.

“She stated she does not want the defendant to stay with her if he is released,” Judge Debra Hayes said Tuesday before approving a $200,000 bond for Adam Doe.

Hayes called Doe and alleged Hoopfest gunman Miguel C. Garcia, 19, a “tremendous risk to this community and many innocent and defenseless bystanders.”

Both men appeared in court Tuesday via video from the jail. Garcia was given a $750,000 bond for three counts of first-degree assault; Doe is charged with unlawful posession of a firearm and third-dgree assault.

The assault charge stems from Doe allegedly reaching for gun when approached by police, which led to an officer drawing his gun. But the officer didn’t fire because of the large crowd, leading to what he described in court documents as a violent struggle with the teenager.

Doe is due back in court today for violating his release conditions on assault and riot charges connected to a stabbing in October.

Read more in my story here.

June 29: Hoopfest shots not ‘surprising’

June 26: Two hospitalized after shooting at Hoopfest

Wanted: Man accused of threatening judge

UPDATE: Rory Schwanbeck was booked into jail on June 24.

A convicted felon accused of intimidating a Spokane County District Court judge is wanted by police after a raid at his home revealed several firearms.

 Rory M. Schwanbeck, 54, is out of jail awaiting trial on charges related o statements he allegedly made to Judge Patty Walker on Jan. 7, 2009. But he’s due to return after police found two guns in the felon’s room during a SWAT team search April 29 at 103 W. 39th, according to court documents.

A judge ruled the incident violated Schwanbeck’s release conditions for felony charges of intimidating a judge and resisting arrest; a warrant for Schwanbeck’s arrest was issued June 11.

Now Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that lead to his arrest.

Schwanbeck “is frequently armed when contacted by police,” according to Crime Stoppers.

In 1990, he shot a man who was picking up his son at a north Spokane County daycare, leading to a second-degree assault charge, according to Crime Stoppers. He also has convictions for city assault, malicious mischief, possession of a dangerous weapon, drug possession and third-degree theft.

Schwanbeck was before Judge Walker on two cases when he allegedly threatened civilians and court officials, then lunged at Walker and said “You are not safe either, up there as a judge.”

Schwanbeck was restrained and removed from the courtroom. It’s unclear when he left jail, but he was out when a SWAT team raided his house April 29 in search of methamphetamine. He was arrested that day on gun charges, then posted $50,000 bond May 5.

Anyone with information on Schwankbeck’s location is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

‘Nemesis’ of property owners flees court

A man police call “the nemesis of Spokane Valley property owners” returned to jail Wednesday after fleeing a courtroom and falling in front of the Spokane County Elections Office.

Cole T. Monson, 36, ran from Spokane County District Court Judge Debra Hayes’ courtroom after Hayes revoked his bond on a driving while suspended charge and ordered him jailed, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Monson shoved a judicial assistant then ran from the courtroom, down the stairs and out the Public Safety Building as a deputy chased him, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Monson fell as he jumped down a short stairwell, then was handcuffed and returned to court by police, where Hayes “reiterated she wanted him taken to jail,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

Monson, a longtime felon arrested in a large stolen property and fuel theft investigation in March, faces new charges of felony third-degree assault and misdemeanor first-degree escape.

Monson may face criminal charges for as many as 120 crimes involving burglary, vehicle prowling, arson, malicious mischief and vehicle theft, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

He’s also a suspect in a federal investigation involving counterfeit money, and is suspected of exchanging stolen property for meth to a woman recently indicted on federal meth charges.

Probation for ex-city councilman

A former Liberty Lake city councilman will be on unsupervised probation for two years for assaulting his wife.

Brian A. Sayrs pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault Friday in Spokane County District Court.

Sayrs was originally charged with felony second-degree assault after his wife, Michelle Messer, told police in August that he’d assaulted her at their now former Liberty Lake home five months earlier.

Sayrs had served on the council since Liberty Lake was formed in 2001 and was mayor pro tem when he resigned April 14. He’d missed six council meetings since his failed bid for Spokane County commissioner in November and hadn’t called to explain his last two absences.

He was arrested Aug. 29 and was in Spokane County Jail for about 10 hours before posting $2,000 bond.

Messer said she and Sayrs were arguing over day care issues March 25 when he ripped a phone out of her hands, then blocked her from leaving the room before hurling a porcelain dinner plate at her head, according to the affidavit. Sayrs told her it was an accident, she said.

Messer, a physician, received six stitches on her head the next day but told hospital staff she’d fallen down the stairs. The sentence approved Friday calls for Sayrs to undergo a domestic violence evaluation.

He received a suspended $5,000 fine and suspended 365-day jail sentence. The conviction prevents him from owning firearms.

Read a previous story here.

Police sergeant avoids prosecution

A police sergeant was granted deferred prosecution for a drunken driving charge on Friday. Brad Thoma also had a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge (failure to remain at the scene of an accident-attended vehicle or other property) dismissed under the misdemeanor compromise statute.

He could have tried for deferred prosecution on the hit and run charge had it stuck. More than 90 percent of deferred prosecution cases are drunken driving charges, said Deputy Prosecutor Brian O’Brien. Prosecutors have little say in the procedure; they can object if someone doesn’t meet the requirements but the requirements are pretty all encompassing for first-time offenders.

“We don’t have an ability to really participate as advocates for or against,” O’Brien said.

The judge who approved this was Douglas Robinson, a visiting judge from Whitman County.

Robinson is in Spokane County District Court once every two months or so to hear cases that are deemed to have a conflict with regular Spokane County proceedings. (For example, Robinson also handled the sentencing Friday of a man accused of harassing a city of Spokane snow plow driver.)

Robinson, who later said he didn’t know Thoma was a police sergeant, praised Thoma for opting for the deferred prosecution.

Robinson called the deferred prosecution, which includes two years of intensive alcohol rehabilitation, “a wonderful opportunity.”

“It’s just a matter of how much dedication you want to give,” Robinson said. “If you take advantage of it you will look back from now and think this is one of the best decisions you’ve made.”

He dismissed the hit-and-run charge (the charge was not eligible to be a felony because the victim wasn’t injured) after reading a letter he said was from Prickett indicating she “is not interested in seeing the case pursued. They have been fully compensated,” Robinson said.

Prickett said she felt she was misled by lawyer Rob Cossey’s office regarding the intent of the letter.

Read more here.

Courthouse watch: 7.16.09

A search warrant filed today in Spokane County District Court reveals new details about a bizarre carjacking that led to the death of one of the suspects in a fiery car crash last month.

Marjorie A. “Amy” Harrigan, 24, died when she was thrown from the carjacked 2002 Acura RSX during a police chase you can read about here.

Harrigan’s boyfriend, Michael L. Olson, 31, was arrested later that day and accused of stealing the Acura with Harrigan and assaulting the car’s owner.

Police say he was in a Chevy pickup truck driving near Harrigan in the Acura when police spotted them.

The search warrant filed today shows Olson had another girlfriend who he was cheating on with Harrigan, and that woman told police she’d given Olson a spare set of keys to the truck, according to the search warrant prepared by Spokane County Sheriff’s Detective Lyle Johnston.

But that was a few weeks ago when he was working for the owner, she told police, and she knew Olson wasn’t supposed to be driving it the night of Harrigan’s death, Johnston said.

The warrant authorized a search of a backpack found at Olson’s mother’s house. Inside, detectives found cell phones belonging to Olson, Harrigan and the carjacking victim.

Johnston filed another search warrant shortly after asking T-Mobile and Cricket for information on the phones.

Read that search warrant here.

Olson was arraigned last week and remains in Spokane County Jail on charges of first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and three counts of driving with a suspended license.

His bail is set at $76,950.

Fire captain back on payroll after guilty plea

A fire captain arrested for helping his son escape a bar fight is back on the Spokane Fire Department payroll after serving a day in jail for three misdemeanors.

Ronald D. Clinger, 54, struck a plea deal that dismissed a felony charge of eluding police, moving him to paid leave with the department instead of unpaid layoff status, assistant chief Brian Schaeffer said.

An internal investigation will determine if Clinger will remain with the department, Schaeffer said.

Clinger makes about $102,000 a year.

Clinger, a 27-year veteran, will be on probation for two years after pleading guilty to reckless driving, first-degree negligent driving and second-degree criminal assistance.

He was sentenced last week to three days in jail with credit for time served. He was released on Saturday after less than 24 hours, records show. Spokane County District Court Judge John Cooney imposed the sentence.

Clinger was arrested on Nov. 4, accused of speeding away from police with his son, who was involved in a knife fight at a bar in Chattaroy.

Daniel W. Clinger, 33, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in February and was sentenced to four months in jail, records show.

Read the original story on the incident here.