Spokane County’s eight District Court judges are up for re-election. Four are unopposed, an unfortunate but not unusual phenomenon for judgeships at all levels, including the Washington Supreme Court.
Also unusual this year is the timing of the races, which come less than one year after “A Blueprint for Reform” recommended changes in the local criminal justice system that could make it more efficient, and better for taxpayers and offenders. The report’s three authors criticized the District Court for its resistance to change and lack of care regarding the costs of jailing offenders or accused offenders.
The Spokesman-Review has praised the Blueprint written by the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission, and our endorsements rest in part in how candidates respond to the report during interviews with the editorial board, as well as their own views on how well the District Court operates, and evaluations by members of the Spokane County Bar Association.
The judges with no opponents are Vance Peterson, Donna Wilson, Patti Connolly Walker and Debra R. Hayes, who are running for positions 1, 3, 4 and 6, respectively.
For Position No. 2, we endorse Chris Bugbee. He is challenging Sara Derr, who has been on the bench since 1994. Nevertheless, those who responded to the bar association poll rated Bugbee and Derr equal in relevant legal experience, and Bugbee slightly higher in legal ability, judicial temperament, integrity and suitability.
Bugbee is a defense attorney and former deputy Spokane County prosecutor who in 2010 lost to Steve Tucker in the primary election for county prosecutor. He says Derr has resisted the criticisms made by the Blueprint authors, two of whom have endorsed his campaign.
Echoing the Blueprint, Bugbee says the court lacks cohesion and says Derr is partly responsible.
Derr denies any discord, instead characterizing the cooperation among the judges and staff as “fantastic” the last eight years.
The court may not be where the commission or judges would like it to be, she says, but District Court has been adopting technology and “smart justice” innovations as fast as resources allow.
Smart justice offers veterans, the mentally ill and others therapy and other help to keep them out of jail, while still protecting the public.
For Position No. 5, we endorse incumbent Gregory J. Tripp over Richard Reierson, a former Kootenai County deputy prosecutor who declined an invitation to meet with the editorial board and did not participate in the bar poll.
Tripp says District Court was a pioneer in handling domestic violence cases and, like Derr, says the District Court is not getting credit for other efforts to get smarter, particularly considering the number and complexity of cases.
He notes he also acts as municipal court judge for Cheney, which gives him another perspective on the justice system. Earlier this year, Tripp was named judge of the year by the state association of district and municipal court probation officers and employees for his support of “rehabilitation and restorative justice programs.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.