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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Bipartisan panel picked Idaho’s last federal judge; Otter reluctant on transferring IEN out of Admin Dept.

With all the questions being raised about the secret selection process Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo are using to vet candidates for the state’s next U.S. District judge, it’s worth looking at how Idaho did it the last time around; I do so in my Sunday column, noting that Idaho last got a new federal district judge in 1995. The late U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan, who had served since 1981, took senior status on Dec. 30, 1992, and died of cancer on April 10, 1995.

Then-Rep. Larry LaRocco, the only member of Idaho’s congressional delegation who was of the same party as Democratic President Bill Clinton, proposed the nomination of Lewiston attorney John Tait. In August 1994, Clinton nominated Tait, but the nomination languished, with opposition from then-GOP Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne. Tait was one of 45 Clinton judicial nominees who weren’t confirmed by the Senate during Clinton’s presidency.

After LaRocco lost his re-election bid in 1994 to Republican Helen Chenoweth, Craig and Kempthorne got the Clinton administration to withdraw the nomination and turned instead to a bipartisan nominee review commission the two had set up under guidelines of the American Judicature Society. The nine-member panel, which included five Democrats and four Republicans, in recognition that the appointment would be made by a Democratic president, considered 38 applicants, narrowed the field to six, then circulated the names of three finalists: then-state 6th District Judge B. Lynn Winmill; Idaho Attorney General Larry EchoHawk, and U.S. Magistrate Larry Boyle of Boise. Winmill ended up as the unanimous choice of the commission, and drew support from all sides, despite clear Democratic credentials.

You can read my full Sunday column here. It also includes Gov. Butch Otter’s explanation of why he allowed the budget bill for the state Department of Administration – the final bill he acted on from this year’s regular legislative session – to become law without his signature. Otter went along only reluctantly with moving the defunct Idaho Education Network school broadband serve out of the department, 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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