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Supreme Court’s O’Connor to visit for judicial conference in Spokane

Christopher Rodkey Staff writer

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will be in Spokane Thursday as she makes her first public appearance since she announced her retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month.

She will take part in the weeklong 2005 9th Circuit Judicial Conference, an annual gathering of about 800 judges, lawyers and guests who discuss issues pertaining to the Western federal court system.

O’Connor will be part of an informal conversation with attendees. She is the designated justice for the 9th Circuit.

In addition to the justice’s appearance, the conference, which is open only to registered participants, will tackle new challenges and questions in the courts, said spokesman David Madden.

“It’s no secret that there are controversies in the court system right now,” Madden said. “We are dealing with the issues that courts have today.”

A panel today will look at the rising tensions between the courts and Congress. The discussion will include what some legislators call “judicial activism” in the courts. Judges will also try to help legislators understand their need for greater funding, said 9th Circuit Chief Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder.

Two former members of the U.S. Congress, Sen. Slade Gorton and Rep. George Nethercutt, as well as two federal judges who often work with Congress, will examine what can be done to reduce the friction.

Other panels throughout the week will discuss national security, how courts work with the media and the decline of trials in the federal court system.

The conference, held in the Spokane Convention Center, returns to town for the first time since 1976. It is held annually and is authorized under government code to increase judicial education and experience.

“The conference is principally an educational conference that brings together judges and lawyers for an educational program designed by judges and lawyers,” Schroeder said.

Because the 9th Circuit is so large, the conference allows many judges and attorneys a chance to see each other face to face and discuss the law, she said.

“We chose Spokane because it’s one of the nicest cities in the United States,” Schroeder said. “The people here are very warm.”

Members listened to a special presentation by the Spokane Symphony in Riverfront Park on Sunday night and many attendees have enjoyed staying at the Davenport Hotel, Schroeder said. The concert was open to the public.

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