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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Hazel tops field for Superior Court

UPDATED: Tue., July 18, 2017

Three candidates – Tony Hazel, J. Scott Miller and Jocelyn Cook – are vying to win the Spokane County Superior Court Position 6 seat held by Judge Sam Cozza for two decades. Cozza died last year after being re-elected. In May, Gov. Jay Inslee selected Hazel to replace Cozza pending the outcome of November’s election.

Judicial evaluations are always a challenge because the job requires technical knowledge that most voters don’t have. Judicial canons temper criticism among the candidates. Endorsements aren’t a surefire bellwether because judges tend to support other judges. That’s true in this case, with most judges lining up behind Hazel. The Spokane County Bar Association poll can be of some use, with the caveats that not all lawyers participate and that the respondents’ level of knowledge about each candidate may range from intimate to hearsay. The SCBA also commissioned an 11-member panel consisting of nine local attorneys and two retired judges to interview and evaluate the candidates.

Hazel is a close friend of the Cozzas and was asked to run by Judge Cozza’s wife. He has worked in the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office since 2004. Before that, he worked for the Yakima County prosecutor. He’s been in the major crimes unit for nine years and did stints in therapeutic and DUI courts. He served on Mayor David Condon’s public safety transition team. He is a former SCBA president.

Hazel has been a leader in tugging his office along the smart-justice process. He represented the office on the Spokane County Law and Justice Council, which was revived in 2014 to pursue evidence-based reforms and greater collaboration. It was through the council that the Blueprint for Reform was adopted.

Hazel was rated “exceptionally qualified” by the SCBA panel and he scored higher than Miller in all categories of the SCBA poll. Cook chose not to participate in the process.

J. Scott Miller has three decades of legal experience and believes he has the seasoning and wisdom a good judge needs. He was also a friend of Judge Cozza and helped on some of his campaigns. He has his own firm, which handles a variety of cases, after being a managing partner of Miller, Devlin & McLean for 16 years. He teaches law at Whitworth and Gonzaga universities.

Miller says the tough decisions by judges are made at the front end of the process because leaving an arrestee in jail more than 24 hours increases their chances of committing future offenses. He finds Superior Court to be collegial, but he says another judge is needed to ease the workload and to get civil cases on the docket sooner.

Miller was rated “qualified” by the SBCA evaluation panel.

Jocelyn Cook has worked in the Spokane County Public Defender’s Office for 10 years after moving to Spokane from Southern California. She’s also spent two years drafting appellate briefs. She says she is passionate about law, which was apparent during the interview. She does not like the process of electing judges, saying it leads to sloganeering that distorts the public’s perception of the job. The role of judge is to assess the facts and make rulings based on the law, she says. It’s law enforcement’s job to make the community safe.

Cook says she wasn’t interested in becoming a judge until the appointment of Hazel. She felt others were more qualified. The heavy workload of the court, she says, is partly attributable to the county prosecutor’s decision to take more cases to trial.

All three candidates were impressive, but Hazel did receive higher evaluations and has shown leadership on criminal justice reforms. The case hasn’t been made to overrule the decision that placed him on the bench. We recommend voters retain him.

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