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Eye On Boise

Idaho finally gets a nominee for U.S. district judge; full story

David Nye (Idaho State Journal)
David Nye (Idaho State Journal)

Here's my full story on the nomination today of a new federal district judge for Idaho, state 6th District Judge David Nye. Chief District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who since July has been Idaho's only federal district judge, said, “It’ll be great to have somebody on the court – we desperately need the help.” The White House nomination now goes to the U.S. Senate for confirmation, where despite politics that have bogged down other confirmations, Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch say they're committed to getting the nomination through.

               BOISE – Idaho finally  has a new federal district judge nominee, with the announcement Tuesday from the White House that it’s chosen Idaho 6th District Judge David Nye.

               Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch said they “enthusiastically seek the consent of the full Senate for confirmation” of Nye as the state’s next federal judge.

“I am pleased to nominate Judge Nye to serve on the United States District Court bench,” President Barack Obama said in a White House news release. “I am confident he will serve the American people with distinction.”

               Idaho’s been down to just one U.S. district judge since last July, when longtime Judge Edward Lodge took senior status and reduced his caseload to 75 percent; he’d announced his plans to do that in September of 2014. After Lodge took senior status, just U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill was left in the District of Idaho; the federal court system declared a “judicial emergency” due to the shortage of judges, and Idaho began tapping out-of-state judges to hear Idaho cases.

               Federal district judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. But under current Senate practices, the two home-state senators have a virtual veto over any White House nominee, forcing them to work together with the White House.

               Crapo and Risch, both of whom are lawyers, held a lengthy and secretive process in which they personally interviewed an array of applicants. After several were vetted and then eliminated, they contacted Nye in January.

               “It was a call from both of the senators,” he said.

Nye, who was an attorney with the firm Merrill & Merrill in Pocatello for 20 years, was appointed a district judge by Gov. Butch Otter in 2007, and re-elected without opposition in 2014. He oversees a successful diversionary felony drug court in Pocatello, and has been active in helping train new Idaho judges. Nye holds both bachelor’s and law degrees from Brigham Young University.

               Prior to his appointment to the bench, Nye specialized in insurance law and medical malpractice. When he became a district judge, however, he began hearing all kinds of cases. “There was a very steep learning curve, but it wasn’t a long learning curve,” he said. “I’m hoping it will be the same way moving to the federal bench. There’ll be a lot to learn first, I know that – assuming I get there.”

Senate confirmation of federal judges has been bogged down amid Washington, D.C. politics in recent years, and the Senate and White House are currently in the midst of a major spat over the Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Crapo and Risch expressed optimism about getting the Idaho nominee confirmed.

“As I have told the president, I am committed to working diligently and enthusiastically to obtain the consent of the Senate for Judge Nye’s confirmation,” Crapo said.

James Ruchti, a Pocatello attorney and a board member of the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association, said of Nye, “He’s well-liked and he treats people with respect. He’s practiced and litigated for, boy, decades, and I think he’s tried a case in just about every courthouse in southeast Idaho. That just tells you the volume of cases he’s tried. … I really think it’s important you have experienced litigators – they just have to know how to manage a heavy litigation calendar.”

According to multiple sources, at least two previous candidates were suggested to the Obama Administration by the two senators, including Boise attorney Erika Malmen, 41, who had failed to make the short list when she applied through a merit process for a state judgeship last year and had limited courtroom experience; and Idaho 5th District Judge Richard Bevan, 56, whose potential nomination was lauded by Idaho lawyers from both parties. Bevan reportedly had a White House interview, but then was dropped from consideration.

               Idaho is the only state in the 9th Circuit that’s never had a woman U.S. district judge; it’s one of just two in the nation.

               Last spring, after an outcry from female members of the Idaho Bar when news surfaced that the two senators had interviewed only four men for the lifetime appointment, Crapo and Risch publicly announced that they were interviewing both men and women, and several prominent female Idaho attorneys were subsequently interviewed.

               Peg Dougherty, a Boise attorney who’s long been active in recruiting female lawyers to apply for judgeships in Idaho, said, “It is disappointing. Judge Nye may be perfectly qualified. But it is disappointing that they did not choose from such a broad group of very talented women in our state.” She added, “It just seems to me that they had an opportunity to move Idaho out of the ranks of zero.”

               Risch said, “This has been a long and difficult process as we worked through potential candidates. All applicants were considered and several vetted at various levels. The parties worked in good faith to reach an agreement. I am happy that we have settled on a sound and principled jurist who will be an outstanding judge.”

               Nye was born in San Jose, Calif., and moved to Salt Lake City before high school; after completing college and law school, he moved to Idaho 30 years ago. He and his wife Katre have eight children.

Winmill said he knows Nye personally, though the two haven’t interacted in court. “He is a wonderful human being, he’s a very thoughtful person,” Winmill said. “It’ll be great to have somebody on the court – we desperately need the help.”

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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