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

Local appeals judge one step closer to appointment for U.S District Court in Spokane

Washington Court of Appeals Judge Rebecca Pennell, left, and Sen. Patty Murray.  (Courtesy of the office of Sen. Patty Murray)

Washington Court of Appeals Judge Rebecca Pennell is a step closer to serving on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington after she was nominated for the position by President Joe Biden in March.

In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Washington Sen. Patty Murray formally introduced Pennell’s nomination. Upon review of letters in the judge’s support, Murray said many legal officials described Pennell as “fair, insightful, professional and prepared.”

“Judge Pennell has shown herself to be a true public servant committed to ensuring people in Washington state can access a justice system that treats people fairly and works for everyone,” Murray told the committee.

Pennell, who has served on Division III of the Washington Court of Appeals in Eastern Washington since 2016, would fill a vacancy left on the federal court when the Senate confirmed Judge Salvador “Sal” Mendoza Jr. to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2022.

Pennell grew up in the Tri-Cities and attended the University of Washington and Stanford Law School. She later became a clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley in Spokane. For 16 years, she also worked as a public defender with the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho.

Lena Zwarensteyn, senior director of the fair courts program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released a statement shortly after Wednesday’s hearing in Pennell’s support.

“Much more progress is needed to build an equal justice judiciary that works for everyone, and confirming Judge Pennell is a necessary step toward ensuring that our courts truly reflect and represent the diversity of the legal profession and our nation,” Zwarensteyn said in the statement.

Pennell would be the second public defender to serve as a lifetime judge on the court, Zwarensteyn said. To be confirmed to the federal bench, Pennell would need the support of a majority of the full Senate.