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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Breean Beggs reflects on first week as Superior Court Judge

Breean Beggs poses for a portrait on his first Friday as a Spokane County Superior Court judge.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

One week, Breean Beggs was Spokane City Council president.

The next week, he’s a Spokane County Superior Court Judge.

After years of advocacy for civil rights and criminal justice reform, Beggs, 60, hopes to improve the system from the inside in his new role as the “referee” in the courtroom, where he started last week.

“It seems to me at this point in time, in Spokane, we’re on the verge of trying to create a lot of changes in our entire court system … and I really wanted to be a part of that,” Beggs said of his decision to apply for the role. “So that’s why I was willing to hang up the ‘being the advocate hat’ for the judicial robes of being on the inside and collaborating with lots of other great leaders who are doing that work.”

Beggs was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to fill the seat left by Judge Michael Price’s recent retirement.

Beggs graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 1991. He is most well know for his civil rights work, specifically the case of Otto Zehm, a man who had mental illness who died in Spokane police custody in 2006.

However, Beggs didn’t have a narrow focus in his legal practice, taking on employment and open government matters and personal injury cases as well.

He ran the now-defunct Center for Justice from 2004 to 2010 before becoming a partner at Paukert & Troppmann.

Beggs was elected to the Spokane City Council in 2016 and became city council president in 2020.

After one term, Beggs felt it was time to pass the torch to Betsy Wilkerson, whom he endorsed to replace him before taking the bench.

“I just felt it was the right thing to take a step back,” Beggs said. “I didn’t have a plan.”

Then his wife, Laurie Powers, who heads the Center for Professional Development and Externships at Gonzaga Law School, sent him the information on the open judgeship.

He hopes to advocate for expansion of resources for the court system, among other reforms, while making sure all parties are heard.

It’s rare for judges to have so many of their political opinions publicized before taking the bench, something Beggs acknowledges while also assuring the community he can do the job fairly.

“I’m going to try to do what I did on council, which was know my role and fulfill it,” Beggs said.

In the past in his role as an attorney, Beggs has advocated for clients, and on council he advocated for city employees. Now, he will be a “referee.”

“As a judge, my role is to be the referee between the prosecution and the defense and to uphold the constitution,” Beggs said.

Beggs previously ran against current Prosecutor Larry Haskell when Steve Tucker retired.

While he acknowledges he and Haskell haven’t always seen eye to eye, Beggs feels that won’t affect how he’s viewed as a judge.

“We don’t always see eye to eye, but I don’t think it has much to do with our roles,” Beggs said. “It just has to do with our understanding of the law and some of our value systems.”

Beggs is confident he and Haskell share the desire to have a criminal justice system that works efficiently, fairly and respects everyone’s rights and interests.

“My reputation always has been, follow the law,” Beggs said. “The only times I’ve gotten crosswise with the police or the prosecutor, it’s when they weren’t following the law, in my opinion.”

Haskell did not respond to requests for comment.

While Beggs is leaving advocacy behind in some respects, he hopes to advocate for more resources in the court system.

The Spokane County Commission recently approved the appointment of a 13th superior court judge, something the state Legislature approved more than two decades ago.

Beggs said while that expansion is great, it also likely means the prosecutor and public defender’s offices will need more resources.

“The entire system is stressed and overloaded,” Beggs said. “We do not have resources, sufficient resources, across the board, and people pay the price for that.”

Beggs brings with him years of legislative experience, as well as litigation experience, that has helped form his judicial approach of looking to the intent of the law when it was passed.

“I’m going to read the law closely, do my best to figure out what the intent when it was passed and interpret it in the light of our state constitution and our federal constitution,” Beggs said. “And to what the principles that this country is founded on, which is that every person matters and every person belongs.”

That philosophy mirrors one of Beggs’ last votes as city council president, to update Spokane’s motto: “In Spokane, we all belong.”