This editorial was published by the Tri-City Herald of Kennewick.
Gov. Jay Inslee has a mighty decision to make in appointing a new justice to the Washington state Supreme Court.
We imagine all 12 applicants are brilliant and have outstanding resumes.
However, considering that all but one of the nine state Supreme Court justices are from the west side of the state, we encourage Inslee to choose someone from eastern Washington.
Appointing an applicant who has been immersed in legal issues from east of the Cascades would provide a regional balance that is currently missing from the state’s most prestigious bench.
In addition, it also would help eastern Washington residents to feel better represented in Olympia.
From the Tri-City region, there are two excellent candidates — Judges Alex Ekstrom and George B. Fearing.
Ekstrom of Kennewick is on the Benton-Franklin Superior Court bench, and Fearing of Richland is a judge for the Washington state Court of Appeals based in Spokane.
They applied for the vacancy created when Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst announced in October that she will be retiring to focus on her health. She, sadly, is battling her third round of cancer.
Fairhurst, 62, was first elected to the court in 2002 and then elected chief justice by her colleagues in 2016. Her replacement will fulfill the remaining year of her term and the seat will be up for election in 2020.
Justice Debra Stephens, the only justice from eastern Washington, was chosen by her peers to be chief justice next year after Fairhurst retires Jan. 5.
Stephens of Spokane was appointed to the court by former Gov. Chris Gregoire, who, at the time, said the Supreme Court should resemble the population it serves.
“I have confidence in all of these justices, but now eastern Washington can see there’s someone who really feels, knows and understands not just the law, but what it’s like to be a part of a community and have those legal issues,” said Gregoire in a Spokesman-Review story 12 years ago.
We agree with her sentiments, and we think it’s time another justice from eastern Washington be appointed to the Supreme Court.
Sure, it is an elected position and anyone from any part of the state can run for the job. But it is extremely difficult to unseat an incumbent Supreme Court justice, and candidates from eastern Washington are not going to have the name familiarity as those in the urban area of Puget Sound.
In reality, whoever gets this appointment most likely will end up keeping it.
Other state Supreme Court candidates from eastern Washington are Judge Michael Price of Spokane, James Davenport, an attorney from Buena, and Jack Fiander, an attorney from Yakima. The rest are from Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Olympia and Everett.
Ekstrom was appointed by Inslee in 2014 to the Benton-Franklin Superior Court bench. Prior to getting the judgeship, he was a full-time federal prosecutor, primarily working in Richland and Yakima.
Fearing was appointed by Inslee to the state Court of Appeals in 2013. Division III covers everything east of the Cascades. The court reviews the decisions of trial judges., and can affirm a case by finding that a judge did everything right, send it back for a new trial or sentencing, or dismiss it.
Prior to his appointment, Fearing’s focus had been in civil litigation, representing municipalities like Kennewick, Richland, Pasco, Benton and Franklin counties, as well as school and irrigation districts.
The governor’s office has confirmed that all applicants have been interviewed and that Inslee is expected to announce his decision the first week of December.
Of course, he will have to consider many factors and attributes of the applicants as he makes his decision.
But all things being equal, we’d like to see a Tri-Citian get the job so they can add more insight and another eastern Washington perspective on issues that face the state’s highest court.