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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Two candidates running to replace Judge Kevin Korsmo on Washington Court of Appeals

Washington’s Court of Appeals Division III is seen Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Spokane’s West Central Neighborhood. (Chad Sokol / The Spokesman-Review)

A judge’s planned retirement from the state appeals court in Spokane has set up a race for his seat on the bench.

Judge Kevin Korsmo has served on Washington’s Court of Appeals Division III since 2008, longer than any of the other four judges on the court. He plans to retire when his term expires at the end of the year.

Two candidates already have filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission to run for Korsmo’s seat: Spokane Municipal Judge Tracy Staab and local attorney Marshall Casey.

The three divisions of the Court of Appeals hear thousands of cases each year. Unlike the state Supreme Court, the appeals court is required to consider appeals out of municipal, district and superior courts.

Division III has the smallest number of judges but covers the largest geographic area – 20 counties in Central and Eastern Washington. The five judges preside over cases in rotating panels of three, with each judge writing about 70 opinions a year.

“You get to write 70 opinions a year, and those 70 opinions impact the whole state, and they impact real lives,” Casey said.

Staab called the appeals court a “real workhorse” in Washington’s justice system and said she’s wanted to run for the bench “for a very long time.”

“From a practical standpoint, I think I can bring balance and experience to the court,” Staab said.

She earned her law degree from the University of Puget Sound in 1993, shortly before the university sold its law school to Seattle University. She joined a civil law firm in Seattle and then briefly worked as a prosecutor for the city of Ellensburg.

Staab moved to Spokane in 1999 and spent four years as a law clerk for Judge Stephen Brown, who retired from the Court of Appeals in 2015. She joined the city of Spokane public defender’s office as an appellate attorney in 2003 and began handling appeals for the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho in 2005.

Staab was one of three judges appointed to Spokane Municipal Court when the court was created in 2009. She won a contested election later that year and ran unopposed in 2013. The Spokane County Bar Association rated her “exceptionally qualified” when she ran again in 2017.

The municipal court handles civil infractions, such as speeding tickets, as well as misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, including charges of domestic assault and driving under the influence.

Staab helped establish the court’s therapeutic program for repeat DUI offenders and has served on the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council. She noted that only one current Division III judge, Robert Lawrence-Berrey, has prior experience as a trial court judge.

Both Staab and Casey said they enjoy the research and writing involved in appellate work.

This is Casey’s first run for public office. He said he has considered running to become a trial judge in the past, but realized appellate work is a better fit and decided to run about a year and a half ago.

“I think one of the things we need on the Court of Appeals is making sure we respect juries and respect the Legislature,” Casey said. “I think it’s very important judges stay within their power.”

At the same time, Casey said, it’s important that judges consider the “humanity” of people affected by their rulings.

He recalled that one of his clients was facing eviction from her home in 2018. She had shown up to the Spokane County Courthouse to contest the eviction and avoid a default judgment, but was sent to the wrong courtroom where she waited for about 15 minutes, Casey said.

An appeals court ruling in place at the time – since overturned by the state Supreme Court – prevented the woman from getting the default judgment overturned, and she was locked out of her home with all her possessions, Casey said.

“That really showed a lack of understanding of the humanity of the tenant,” Casey said.

Casey’s legal practice has focused on business and commercial matters, insurance disputes and malpractice and personal injury claims. In 2013, he sued to untangle ownership claims for condominiums in the downtown Ridpath Hotel tower, helping pave the way for the building’s renovation.

He didn’t always plan to become a lawyer. After graduating from Eastern Washington University with an economics degree in 2000, he worked at Bank of America for six years, including more than a year as a vice president, with focuses on productivity and quality control.

Casey earned his law degree from the University of Louisville in 2009 and went into practice with his father and brother. State Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley also worked as an attorney at their firm.

In 2013, Casey started his own firm and brought Shea with him. Shea’s last day at the firm was Dec. 31.

Casey did not mention his campaign for the appeals court in January when asked by The Spokesman-Review about Shea’s departure. At the time, Casey said only that he was “downsizing” and going to practice at attorney Jim Sweetser’s firm.

In an interview last week, Casey said he hadn’t planned to publicly announce his campaign until this spring. He said he plans to continue working at Sweetser’s firm during his campaign and after the election, if he does not become a judge.

Casey said he would have continued working with Shea but couldn’t manage both his campaign and his law firm with Shea busy during the legislative session.

A House-commissioned investigation recently determined that Shea’s involvement in a 2016 armed standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge amounted to domestic terrorism. Shea was expelled from the House Republican caucus and stripped of his legislative committee assignments.

Citing his run for a judicial position, Casey said he couldn’t discuss political matters involving Shea.

“I would never bring his politics into the law,” Casey said. “We kept a dividing line.”

The Spokane County Bar Association has not yet evaluated either candidate in the race for Korsmo’s seat.

Judges’ salaries are set by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. Korsmo’s replacement will make nearly $210,000 a year.