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New federal judge hit bench running

Rice has dozens of cases weeks after being sworn in


Within a couple hours of the U.S. Senate’s approval of Thomas Rice’s appointment as a federal judge last week, Rice was whisked into a courtroom and sworn in to serve the lifetime appointment.

“I ran upstairs and had an impromptu swearing-in on (March 8) by Judge Frem Nielsen,” he said.

And just like that, Rice – who had worked 25 years as an assistant U.S. attorney – became a federal judge and already has dozens of cases over which he is presiding.

U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby praised Rice, who had been his first assistant in the 17 months since Ormsby replaced Jim McDevitt.

“Tom was invaluable to the office and really grew up with the office,” Orsmby said. “He was a great person to work with, and he will exhibit the same quality, I’m sure, as judge. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with in the legal field.”

Rice, 51, started clerking for the U.S. Attorney’s Office while he was still going to law school at Gonzaga University. He graduated in 1986 and was immediately hired by the Department of Justice. He worked a year in Washington, D.C., before returning to the Spokane office where he worked until his appointment by Obama.

A formal swearing-in, known as an investiture, will be scheduled sometime in April, Rice said.

Most recently, Rice teamed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington – who has succeeded Rice as Ormsby’s first assistant – in the successful prosecution of domestic terrorist Kevin W. Harpham, 37. Harpham pleaded guilty last year to placing a bomb along the planned route of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March in downtown Spokane.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed has been promoted to the office’s chief criminal lawyer, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Pam DeRusha will remain chief civil lawyer. Heidi Krummel will also remain as administrative officer, making up Ormsby’s executive management team.

Rice replaces U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley, who entered senior status, meaning he can preside over as few or as many cases as he chooses.

“I don’t think I ever saw him lose his temper,” Ormsby said of Rice. “He will be greatly missed … but we still have a great group of lawyers and support staff.”

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