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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Longtime Spokane City Attorney Jim Sloane remembered as ‘outstanding person’

Former Spokane City Attorney James Sloane in 1999.  (Christopher Anderson )

It was born as all good ideas are: over a lunch of tacos and tostadas.

Organizers of the Spokane Grand Prix, a race that brought professional sports car racing to city streets, recalled then-City Attorney James Sloane pitching the idea during a meal at Casa Blanca restaurant in 1986, according to a Spokesman-Review article published the following year.

Sloane, who died in July, was an avid race car driver himself and one in a group of enthusiasts who had long wanted to bring racing to Spokane.

The race ultimately proved to be a financial struggle, but footage of slick cars zipping through barrier-lined city streets remains viewable online. Though its existence was brief, the race stands as a testament to a relentless spirit recalled by those who worked with Sloane.

Sloane was born in Seattle in 1941 and graduated from the University of Washington before moving to Spokane to attend Gonzaga Law School. He graduated in 1967, but stayed in Spokane, where he eventually became the longtime city attorney before retiring and entering private practice.

As the city’s top lawyer, he played a key role in myriad city projects and issues , including construction of the city’s waste-to-energy plant and the major redevelopment of River Park Square. He also steered the city through the long legal battle following the disputed searches of Jimmy Marks and his father Grover Marks, a case that led to the 2000 PBS documentary “American Gypsy.”

Sloane built a reputation as an attorney with fierce loyalty to the city and to the attorneys who worked under him.

He was at the helm when the Marks family filed a lawsuit claiming that the searches of their homes in 1986 – which turned up $1.6 million in cash and $500,000 in jewelry – violated their civil rights. The city ultimately settled and paid the Marks family $1.2 million, putting to rest an issue that had taken more than a decade to resolve.

“He got fine professionals to work for him in various subject areas, and he was very supportive of them,” said former assistant city attorney Milton Rowland. “If the lawyer handling the Marks case showed him and told him that a certain course of action was the right thing, the lawful one and the most beneficial to the city, he would back up that assistant city attorney.”

In 1987, he sued a group of citizens who aimed to stymie the waste-to-energy plant’s construction by placing it on the ballot.

Former Mayor Sheri Barnard was on the opposite side of the battle over the waste-to-energy facility – a fight she ultimately lost – but remembered Sloane fondly.

“We were right there in City Hall together and he was the most committed, devoted, dedicated city attorney you could ever ask for,” Barnard said. “All that time, he was just right there.”

A 1993 Spokesman-Review profile of Sloane described him as “adept at surviving the political battles at City Hall.”

“It’s not that Sloane avoids fights. He frequently finds himself in the middle of them,” the article stated.

Still, former Mayor Dennis Hession said Sloane had a way of telling officials what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear, which helped him bridge political divides. Sloane had left City Hall by the time Hession took office, but the former mayor had been a member of the Park Board while Sloane was still city attorney.

“He understood politics, he loved government, and he loved good government, so he understood how the politics of elected officials affected how they did their business,” Hession said.

Roger Crum, the former city manager, worked with Sloane for more than a decade in City Hall and remembered him foremost as an “outstanding person and a good friend,” with a great sense of humor to boot.

Sloane loved city law and knew it well, Crum recalled.

“He would never let us do anything that wasn’t legal, but he was very creative in finding ways to get it done,” Crum said.

Sloane was Crum’s city attorney when he was city manager. The two started in City Hall around the same time and had offices across the hall from each other.

Sloane and Crum were part of a group that would regularly play pickup basketball games at the East Central Community Center during their lunch breaks. Sloane would guard Crum because “he knew I couldn’t jump any higher than he could,” Crum joked.

Rowland, the former assistant city attorney, remembers the way Sloane supported the people who worked for him.

In 1997, Rowland was charged with driving under the influence. It would have been politically expedient to cut Rowland loose, but instead Sloane stuck behind Rowland and helped him connect to the Catholic Church.

“That fact alone speaks volumes about Jim, I think; the things that I heard this morning were all things that I knew about his deep love for his beloved wife, Judi, for his abiding interest in all things political, his human decency and goodness,” Rowland said.

And while he trusted his assistants, they wouldn’t want to disappoint him.

“He wouldn’t let anybody get away with their second-best. He demanded the best out of you, but he didn’t demand it in an angry way, he assumed it,” Rowland recalled.

Sloane is survived by his wife, Judi, who joined him in advocacy efforts following her diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 2006.

A funeral was held for Sloane, who died at the age of 79, at St. Augustine Catholic Church on Tuesday.