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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Idaho still waits on vacant judge seat…

Down to just one U.S. District Court judge, the federal court in Idaho is bringing in up to 10 visiting judges from Colorado, Washington, California and elsewhere to hear Idaho cases while the court awaits an appointee to replace longtime Judge Edward Lodge. It’s a situation Idaho’s lone sitting federal judge calls “a crisis.” You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Meanwhile, multiple sources say the controversial first prospective nominee put forth by Idaho’s two GOP senators, a Boise attorney, is no longer being considered, and a second candidate, a sitting state district judge from Twin Falls, is now being vetted by the White House.

Lodge took senior status on July 3 and has reduced his caseload to 75 percent; he announced his plans in September 2014. In July, the federal court system declared a “judicial emergency” in Idaho because of the shortage of judges.

Boise attorney Erika Malmen, after several months of vetting, is no longer being considered for the lifetime appointment. Instead, the White House is vetting an alternate candidate proposed by GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Idaho 5th District Administrative Judge G. Richard Bevan. He’s undergone some of the same federal background checks and interviews that Malmen underwent in the fall. But it’s unclear when a nominee could be named; the Senate will soon recess for its winter break.

“I’m very hopeful that they will have somebody nominated within the next few months, so that we can get someone on board and can quit using so many visiting judges, and can get our caseload back to a level of manageability,” said Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who recently told the Idaho Judicial Conference of the steps the court is taking to handle the load in the meantime. “I do think it’s a crisis,” he said.

Russell Wheeler, a fellow with the Brookings Institution and an expert on the selection of federal judges, said President Barack Obama hasn’t nominated a new district judge since September, and the average time from nomination to confirmation during his administration so far is 215 days. That compares to the median time between nomination and confirmation in the Johnson and Nixon administrations of about 25 days, during “two of the most tumultuous presidencies we’ve seen in the last century,” Wheeler said.

“So it’s not just Idaho – the whole process is deteriorated,” he said.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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