After a secretive process that spanned more than a year, Idaho’s two U.S. senators appear to be proposing that Idaho’s next federal district judge – a lifetime appointment – be a little-known, 41-year-old Boise attorney whose law practice has been largely limited to environmental administrative law, representing timber and mining interests and land developers, and who failed to make the short list when she applied through a merit process for a state judgeship in May.
The two senators’ choice of a candidate to succeed long-serving U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has been cloaked in secrecy from the start; they set no criteria for their selection, interviewed an array of candidates personally, and have remained mum about their choice. But multiple sources say the U.S. Department of Justice is now conducting background checks on Erika Malmen in preparation for her nomination for the judgeship, and a national expert says that signifies that the White House has at least tentatively signed off on the senators’ recommendation.
Both Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo said Wednesday that the selection process is still ongoing. “The Idaho senators have seriously considered a number of qualified women and men in Idaho’s legal community and are in serious discussions with the White House about various candidates,” said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s spokesman. “They will not discuss any individuals who may or may not be under consideration.”
While Malmen isn’t well-known in the state’s legal community, everyone involved in Idaho politics knows her husband – Jeff Malmen, one of the top GOP political operatives in the state. Jeff Malmen was chief of staff to two Idaho governors, including current Gov. Butch Otter, has run top-level campaigns, and is now the vice president of Idaho Power, the prominent and politically powerful utility. Idaho Power has long been closely linked to Risch, who represented it for years in his private law practice, and who has received $20,000 in campaign donations from the utility’s political action committee for his U.S. Senate campaigns.
Crapo also has benefited from Idaho Power campaign contributions, receiving $12,500 from the IDA-PAC Political Action Committee since 2000. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.