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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Bring on the Zamboni

Judicial races in Washington usually are notable for having very little notable to report. Candidates compare resumes, look for people to place in long lists of endorsements in their newspaper ads and generally avoid controversy in an effort to seem judicious.

One state Supreme Court candidate may have stirred up controversy just by filing. John “Zamboni” Scannell filed against incumbent Justice Debra Stephens. He’s notable for more than just his nickname, earned from driving the ice-smoothing machine for a Seattle hockey team. . . 

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. . . Scannell was disbarred in 2010. The Bar Association yanked his license for several violations that included allegedly defending a husband and wife without making it clear to them that they might want to be represented by separate attorneys. Most lawyers would have received lighter punishment, but the bar association brought the hammer down on Scannell because it said he thwarted and delayed the investigation.

He appealed to the Supremes, who in a 6-3 decision upheld the disbarment, with Stephens writing the majority opinion. In the minority opinion, then-Chief Justice Gerry Alexander said Scannell was being punished too harshly, essentially for “being a pain in the neck.”

His candidacy raises a constitutional question of whether a disbarred lawyer can be a justice. Language in the state constitution isn’t clear, said Katie Blinn of the secretary of state’s office. It says a judge “shall have been admitted to practice in the courts of record of this state.”

Under that interesting verb tense, a disbarred attorney may qualify; a legal challenge would have to be filed to put Scannell’s challenge on ice. Otherwise, he’ll be on the November ballot against Stephens because only two candidates filed for that seat.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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