An experienced Spokane County Superior Court judge soon will have a new assignment.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday that he is appointing Judge John Cooney to a seat on the Division III Court of Appeals.
Cooney will move to the Washington Court of Appeals in August. Cooney, 50, will fill the seat set to be vacated by Judge Laurel Siddoway, who retires on July 31.
“Judge Cooney has a wealth of trial court experience that will serve him well on the appellate bench,” Inslee said in a statement. “He’s a well-respected jurist with a reputation for working hard, and his skills and work ethic will be a welcome addition at the Court of Appeals.”
Cooney is a Gonzaga alum through and through, graduating from Gonzaga Preparatory High School in 1991 then completing his undergraduate degree in 1997 at Gonzaga University. Cooney graduated from Gonzaga Law School in 2000.
He immediately went into private practice until he was elected as a Spokane County District Court Judge in 2006. He was elected to the Superior Court in 2013.
Cooney is excited to have more time to decide critical issues than he currently does in Superior Court.
“All the cases I hear in the trial court end up at the court of appeals,” Cooney said. “I decide the same issues that the court of appeals decides but I do it without the extra resources, with limited time to decide the cases.”
Superior Court judges must render a decision within 90 days, while in the appeals court, Judges have six months to decide a case as part of a three-judge panel.
Spokane County Superior Court has long been under-resourced, Cooney and other local judges have argued. In May, the Spokane County Commission funded a 13th Superior Court judge more than two decades after the position was created by the Washington State Legislature.
In its 2019 staffing needs report, the state Administrative Office of the Courts said the Spokane County Superior Court needed 24 judicial officers to handle its existing caseload. Superior Court currently has 20 judicial officers, with 12 judges and eight appointed court commissioners.
“The caseload here is not sustainable,” Cooney said, noting he was working seven days a week earlier this year. “I feel really bad leaving my colleagues with so much work, but it’s almost not sustainable to continue this.”
Cooney hopes in the court of appeals he’ll be able to give more time to important decisions.
While Cooney is excited to take on this new role, he said it’s impossible to fill Siddoway’s shoes as a hardworking mainstay in the court.
“Judge Siddoway has been one of the most stable forces over there. Her decisions are very clear and concise,” he said. ” I can’t replace her.”
Cooney hopes his experience as a trial court judge will be valuable to the court of appeals.
“I’m a firm believer in access to justice,” Cooney said. “There’s too many barriers in place now.”
One recent court of appeals paternity case ruling forced the parties, who did not have attorneys, to totally re-file the case. That meant new filing fees, a cost that can be prohibitive for people, Cooney said.
“My hope is that we can remove barriers that prevent people from getting access to our court system,” Cooney said. “Whether it be cost barriers or procedural barriers.”