There were some interesting moments during today’s Idaho Judicial Council interviews of Idaho Supreme Court hopefuls; seven were interviewed today, and six more are up tomorrow. Among them:
Several Judicial Council members had high praise for 5th District Judge Richard Bevan, who’s been a judge for 14 years and a lawyer for 17 years before that. Council member Phil Reberger told Bevan his application is “the best I’ve read in a long time.” And Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick, who chairs the council, told Bevan that when the council asks applicants for 5th District judgeships about role models they’d like to emulate, “Your name comes up 100 percent of the time.”
“What do you think is the secret of being a good trial judge?” Burdick asked Bevan. Bevan responded that he’s always approached the role keeping in mind what it was like to be on the other side of the bench, and to offer respect to those appearing before him in court. “That courtesy goes so far,” he said. Plus, he said, “I take the time to lay out the rationale, the reasoning for why I’m ruling the way that I am.” That transparency, he said, helps instill confidence in the courts and their decisions.
When St. Maries attorney Andrew Doman was asked what distinguishes him from his competitors for the high court seat, Doman said, “I’ve practiced in all judicial districts in the state of Idaho,” including practicing in southeastern Idaho for several years, Boise for several years, and North Idaho for the past two decades, and having had a varied practice representing an array of interests. “I just appreciate the opportunity,” Doman said. “Coming from a small community, it’s quite an honor just to appear before you, and I know you have a tough choice.”
Reberger told Idaho Court of Appeals Judge Sergio Gutierrez – who was making his seventh appearance before the council for an interview – that he’s “certainly persistent.” Burdick told Gutierrez, “You’ve had a stellar career as a Court of Appeals judge. Why would you want to be a justice?” Gutierrez responded, “There is work undone.”
He said he wants to work to improve access to courts for all in Idaho, including those who can’t afford high costs. “In my view, it’s the most urgent issue to be dealt with by our courts and our bars, perhaps not only here in Idaho but across the country.”
Twin Falls attorney Richard Hamilton took exception to bar survey results from other Idaho lawyers expressing doubts about his qualifications – saying he only knows eight other Idaho lawyers. “I said, ‘Where is this coming from?’” he said. “I don’t know these people.” The council questioned how he could be the most qualified candidate for an Idaho high court seat if he’s not had interaction with members of the Idaho Bar. “I didn’t do this on a lark,” Hamilton responded. “I’ve got almost 37 years of experience.” He said his practice is mostly out of state, in California and Arizona; he operates a Santa Clarita, Calif. law practice from a home office in Twin Falls. “I do have an Idaho background,” Hamilton said. “I’ve always had a presence here.”
7th District Judge Greg Moeller was asked by Burdick about his background in water law, which he detailed. He also offered an analysis of the Idaho Supreme Court’s recent grocery tax ruling, saying he had the sense from the oral arguments that several justices wanted to overturn a 1978 precedent, but that several justices also were reluctant to “pull the rug out” from under a governor for following existing law. Burdick nodded as Moeller spoke.
Moeller also told the council he’s the only candidate who’s tried a murder case both as a defense attorney and a judge, and the only one with extensive water law experience, which he said is a need on the court since the retirement of former Chief Justice Jim Jones, though he also noted that Burdick has that background as well.
Steven Price, general counsel for the Ada County Highway District, was asked by council member and former state Rep. Liz Chavez how prepared he is to step up to the state’s highest court. “This is a pretty significant leap from where you are,” she said. Price responded that in 40 years of practicing law, he’s always “been required to learn new areas of law quickly,” saying, “It’s actually what I love about the law.” Asked his judicial role models, he cited Antonin Scalia and current Idaho Justice Daniel Eismann, whose seat the hopefuls are interviewing to fill.
Council member R. Bruce Owens of Hayden asked Price about the responses the council received to its Bar survey about his qualifications. “There doesn’t seem to be any concern about your intelligence,” he said. “The concern seems to be about your temperament. … Some of them refer to you as a bully.”
Price responded, “I find it really perplexing that a lot of my peers found me to be more intelligent and less ethical. I think they got it wrong. … I’m not a bully. … I think it’s really a reflection of the position that I’m in.” He noted that ACHD makes decisions on many contentious issues, but said over the years, he’s had very little litigation result from it. “I love the law, I love the study of the law,” he said. “I teach ethics, it’s very important to me. That’s why the questionnaire has been so bizarre. I think that they got it wrong.”
Reberger told Boise attorney Wade Woodard, a prolific litigator who’s won a series of big cases, “There are seven judges with 88 years of experience on the bench in this applicant pool. … How do you differentiate yourself from the other applicants?” Woodard said unlike a lot of older lawyers and judges, he still does all his own research. He also cited retired Justice Jones as an example of a successful justice who didn’t previously serve as a district court judge. Woodard said he’s very interested in electronic filing of court documents, and has some ideas to improve things. When council members teased Woodard that an appointment as a justice would bring him a substantial pay cut, Woodard said to be “really frank,” he’s already financially secure. A partner in Andersen, Schwartzman, Woodard and Brailsford, Woodard has secured jury verdicts in recent years in the tens of millions of dollars.