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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs appointed as Superior Court judge

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs during a 2023 campaign announcement for City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who he has endorsed to replace him as City Council President. On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Beggs has been appointed to the Spokane County Superior Court, replacing Judge Michael Price, who is retiring July 1.  (Colin Tiernan/The Spokesman-Review)

Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs to serve as a Spokane County Superior Court judge.

Beggs announced in mid-March that he would not be seeking re-election. He said in an interview Monday that a position as a trial court judge was not on his radar at the time, only hearing about the opportunity toward the end of March.

“I never really thought about being a judge before, because you have to stop being an advocate to do that, but I had this space in my life at the moment,” he said. “I have a lot of passion about criminal justice reforms and court reforms, so being one of 13 judges seemed like a good place to bring my knowledge.”

Beggs said he was not coming to the bench with a specific agenda for reforms, but would work to “move the process forward.”

For those skeptical that a long-time politician can set aside politics to act with neutrality on the court, Beggs had a simple message: “You’ll just have to watch.”

“The important thing is to know your role and to follow it. I’ve been dedicated to the law for well over 30 years, and I think the opposing counsels and judges would say I follow the law and am true to it.”

Beggs will replace Judge Michael Price, who is retiring July 1. Beggs has served on the Spokane City Council since 2016 and in 2019 was elected as the Spokane City Council president.

He has practiced law since 1991, largely focused on civil rights, personal injury and employment. He gained prominence when he served as the director of the Center for Justice from 2004 though 2010 and has been one of the most influential voices in Spokane on police reform issues. He represented the family of Otto Zehm in a lawsuit against the city that was settled out of court after Zehm died following a confrontation with Spokane police.

Beggs said he will run in the 2024 election in hopes of retaining his new judgeship.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who serves as council president pro tem, will temporarily fill Beggs’ role as council president. The City Council will have to vote to appoint either a member of the council or a Spokane resident to serve the remainder of Beggs’ term, which is up at the end of the year.

However, Beggs believes that the process could start before he leaves, beginning as soon as he submits a letter of resignation with a clear end date. In that case, the process of finding a permanent replacement to serve the remainder of Beggs’ term could start without Kinnear stepping in temporarily.

Beggs said he thinks Kinnear is a strong candidate to finish his term, noting that she is not running for election and her term is expiring at the end of the year.

Kinnear agrees she would be the candidate best suited to fill the role, though she expressed this with a sense of obligation, not excitement, at a promotion. She believes only she or Councilwoman Karen Stratton could accept the role, because both of their terms are expiring at the end of the year, with neither facing re-election, and she said Stratton expressed disinterest.

“I’m incredibly happy for (Beggs), and incredibly sad for me,” she said.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for him,” she added. “I’ve been pro tem for a year and a half, I know the job, and we don’t have a choice.”

Though the city charter would allow the City Council to open up applications to members of the community, Kinnear expressed skepticism that someone not already on council could get up to speed quickly enough to serve competently.

“The ramp-up time for somebody on the outside, the learning curve is going to be steep,” she said. “And honestly, I don’t have any other aspirations. I’m not going to run for anything else. This isn’t a stepping stone.”

If appointed to fill the remainder of Beggs’ term, the City Council would then have to appoint a replacement to fill the remainder of Kinnear’s term. The new City Council president would accept applications and can unilaterally decide which to advance for public interviews. The full City Council would have to vote to approve a replacement for Kinnear.

Though Kinnear said she was not ready to think about who might replace her, she did specify that she would not support the appointment of a current candidate for her seat.

“I don’t think that’s really ethical, honestly,” she said. “I think the election needs to play out on its own, and appointing a current candidate doesn’t feel right at all.”

Four candidates have filed to replace Kinnear as one of two council members representing south Spokane, including Paul Dillon, Katey Treloar, Cyndi Donahue and Mike Naccarato.

Three candidates have filed to run for City Council president in the upcoming November election: Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, former businesswoman Kim Plese and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel Andy Rathbun. They will appear on the Aug. 1 primary election ballot.