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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Judge pick may lack credential

Mayor downplays accreditation issue as technicality

By Thomas Clouse Staff writer

Spokane City leaders are expected to appoint a Municipal Court judge this morning even though she apparently doesn’t meet the minimum education requirements set by the city in its application form.

Washington state law requires only that candidates for municipal court judge have a license to practice law. But according to records obtained by The Spokesman-Review, the city’s staff went an extra step and required that the applicants graduate from a college or university accredited by the American Bar Association.

The city has already announced the selections of 40-year-old Tracy Staab, who most recently worked as a federal public defender; 42-year-old Shelley Szambelan, who most recently worked as an assistant city attorney; and Mary Logan, a 48-year-old lawyer who has been as a public defender in Spokane since 1997.

But Logan earned her law degree from Monterey College of Law, which is accredited in California but is not listed as one of the 200 law schools – including Gonzaga University School of Law – which are accredited by the American Bar Association.

Mayor Mary Verner said she was made aware of that technical problem this week but was assured by city staff that the application did not include the ABA-certification requirement.

“I was not aware that the advertisement read that way. All I can say is there must have been a mistake,” Verner said.

City leaders are scheduled to meet today at 8:30 a.m. to swear in Logan, Staab and Szambelan. They also are scheduled to start hearing cases later in the morning.

Verner said she intends to follow through with the process, despite the listed education requirement.

“At most, it’s a technical error that has nothing to do with (her) qualifications or the evaluation process,” Verner said. “I’m just mystified by these late-minute challenges.”

Verner reacted strongly when asked how many lawyers may not have applied because of the accreditation requirement.

“How many angels would dance on the head of a pin? How could I possibly know that,” Verner said.

The city also advertised the position as paying an annual salary between $98,219 and $120,394. But the city resolution states that all three new judges will be paid the higher figure.

“These are very difficult jobs,” Verner said. “They will probably be underpaid if you look at the responsibilities and work load they are taking on. And they will be making far less than what they could make in the private sector or as District Court judges.”

The state salary commission sets the pay for District Court judges, who currently make $141,710 a year, according to newspaper archives.

John Clark, president of the Spokane County Bar Association, said he appreciates that city leaders sought the input from his organization in the selection process, which included interviews by a panel of local attorneys and judges.

“We believe the candidates are extremely well qualified,” Clark said.

Despite the apparent technical glitch in the application, Verner said she agrees with Clark’s assessment that all three selections will make fine judges.

Logan could not be reached Thursday for comment.

“I think the three are very well qualified,” Verner said. “Now that the judges need to be sworn in and start work, we seem to be receiving some criticism from folks who want to take shots from the sidelines. I’m puzzled by it.”

Reporter Thomas Clouse can be reached at (509) 459-5495, or by e-mail at tomc@spokesman.com.

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