A judicial appointee by former Spokane Mayor David Condon is defending his seat on the bench against that administration’s director of multicultural affairs.
Matthew Antush, 55, has the backing of many of the judges at the Spokane County Courthouse campus in his bid to retain the seat to which he was appointed in 2018. Gloria Ochoa-Bruck, 48, has gathered support of past administration and City Hall officials in her bid for the job.
Both candidates have raised funds in excess of $35,000, surpassing the fundraising totals of any judge seeking a municipal position since 2009. Antush and Ochoa-Bruck both pointed to their experience with the legal system as the reason they should be elected.
“I’m familiar with all those folks because I’ve been working with them for a career,” said Antush, a 1992 graduate of the Gonzaga Law School. Prior to his appointment by Condon, Antush spent 25 years working as a public defender, first for the city of Spokane and then Spokane County.
Antush said his major push as a municipal judge has been to get defendants that come before him to take part in a needs assessment, which can identify services in the community they may need beyond the courtroom. Municipal judges handle cases based on city laws, which include misdemeanor criminal cases and traffic infractions, among other duties.
“It will reduce pretrial incarceration, which we really need,” Antush said of the needs assessment, which was recently funded by a grant. “Not because we’re trying to be soft, but because we cannot load up our jails with pretrial people.”
In addition to the job at Spokane City Hall, Ochoa-Bruck has served as a judge for the Kalispel and Spokane tribes. She’s also worked in private practice, and as a deputy prosecutor in Benton County.
That breadth of experience, and a desire to bring a balanced approach to the courtroom, is what’s driving her run for office, she said.
“I think community court is great, to get people to reintegrate back into the community. It makes our community successful,” said Ochoa-Bruck, referring to the initiative that pairs criminal defendants with social service providers. “There also needs to be more broadening of those strategies.”
She said those partnerships should take into account the victims of crime, specifically property and domestic violence. Ochoa-Bruck pointed to the disproportionately high rates of domestic violence in Spokane and Spokane County compared to other parts of the region.
Ochoa-Bruck has earned the endorsements of former City Council President Ben Stuckart, former Spokane Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley and Spokane District Court Judge Aimee Maurer. Becoming a judge has been a goal of hers since she became the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned a law degree from the University of Idaho’s College of Law in 2000.
“I think there’s need for the court to be reflective of the community that it serves,” said Ochoa-Bruck, who was the Condon administration’s point person on the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council during her time at City Hall.
Antush said he’s driven by the prospect of helping defendants navigate the criminal justice system, which he notes is not a pleasant experience for most people he sees from the bench.
“You stay at it for 25 years because you can see that it can have a positive effect on a person’s life,” Antush said of the legal profession. “That feels really good.”
Ochoa-Bruck said she’d sought appointment to the municipal court, but hadn’t been selected. She said she’s running on her qualifications, not to object to Antush’s performance.
“I believe that I can bring a lot of value to the court and expand on the great work that’s already being done,” she said.
Antush also said he had nothing to criticize about his opponent, but pointed to his own experience as allowing him to continue his work in the courtroom.
“I’ve just got to think that time of experience, that depth of experience, makes me more suitable for the position,” he said.
Among Antush’s endorsements are Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs and Mayor Nadine Woodward, along with a slate of Superior, District and Municipal court judges in Spokane.
Municipal judges are elected to a four-year term. Their salary is set as a percentage of district court judge salaries as determined by a state commission on salaries for elected officials, and for 2021 that salary is $180,614. It will increase to $183,775 next year.
Election Day is Nov. 2.