Idaho Judicial Council queries candidates

SANDPOINT — The short list of candidates for Bonner County’s new 1st District Court judge is scheduled to be released today.

As many as nine jurists were vying to succeed Judge Steve Verby but three have since dropped out of the hunt. Verby announced last summer that he would shift to senior status on the bench in January of next year.

The six remaining candidates were interviewed by the Idaho Judicial Council at the Bonner County Administration Building on Tuesday.

“We want it to be a very transparent process,” Roger Burdick, chief Idaho Supreme Court Justice and the council’s ex-officio chairman, said of the council’s decision to conduct the interviews in Sandpoint.

Bonner County Magistrate Court Judge Barbara Buchanan, St. Maries attorney Richard Christensen, Sandpoint attorney Brent Featherston, Boundary County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tevis Hull, Coeur d’Alene attorney Linda Payne and Coeur d’Alene Magistrate Court Judge Scott Wayman were interviewed.

Boundary County Prosecutor Jack Douglas, Hayden Lake attorney Steven Frampton and Nez Perce County Magistrate Court Judge Jay Gaskill withdrew their candidacy prior to Tuesday’s interviews.

The council queried all of the candidates on their views of problem-solving courts such as drug courts, unique attributes of the 1st District, how they would address the growing trend of defendants representing themselves and their attitudes about contempt-of-court powers.

All of the candidates expressed support for problem-solving courts and each told the council that contempt of court powers were to be used either judiciously or as a last resort.

But many of the questions directly or indirectly involved judicial temperament.

Vice Chairman J. Philip Reberger, a lay member of the council, said the number of complaints about judges’ temperament have gone down over the years, but the council still spends a good deal of its time fielding them from the public.

Buchanan said an even temperament was essential quality of a district judge, as is giving litigants the time to be heard. In a follow-up question, Buchanan said she would emulate Verby’s ability to keep a tense courtroom from boiling over.

“Judges shouldn’t be upping the tension. They should be bringing it down,” said Buchanan.

Buchanan said the court assistance office has made it easier to preside in cases with pro se litigants.

Christensen told the council judges should act as umpires without being overbearing.

“You’ve got to have respect for the system and you’ve got have respect for the people that come before you,” said Christensen.

Christensen also told the council that judges should not be so cloistered that they lose touch with the community they serve.

Wayman generally received high marks from a survey of Idaho State Bar attorneys, but the council noted complaints accusing him of being impatient, dismissive and openly contemptuous of litigants.

Wayman counted patience as one of his strengths and said the complaints could stem from trying to reign in attorneys when they go too far afield or needlessly repetitive.

“I think a certain amount of those comments are going to be unavoidable,” he said.

Wayman said that he would stop short of assisting pro se litigants, but would make sure they knew the pitfalls and the rules they would have to abide by.

Hull also gave credit for Verby’s courtroom demeanor, which he said sets an example for attorneys and allows them to express themselves and their arguments.

“A large part of the demeanor that’s brought into court, frankly, is dictated by the judge,” said Hull.

“They set the example for counsel.”

When asked by Councilman Steven Tuft asked about handling pro se litigants, Hull said he would treat them with respect, but feels some judges work too closely with them.

Payne said there were ample judges in the district who are patient and thoroughly listen to what the parties are saying in court, which are traits she would employ.

“They are so polite, but they don’t take any guff either,” said Payne.

Payne said she would stop short of giving legal advice to defendants who represent themselves and suggest they obtain private counsel or a public defender.

Featherston pledged to rise above courtroom turmoil and avoid making a reactionary or hasty decision that has not been thoroughly deliberated. He said he would apply reflective analysis and meticulousness to any decision.

“The judge is uniquely positioned to escalate or de-escalate the tension that is there,” Featherston said.

Featherston said judges currently do a pretty good job in treating pro se litigants fairly and added that he would make sure that they were held to the same rules bar-certified attorneys must adhere to.

The short list of nominees will be forwarded to Gov. Butch Otter for appointment.

Jim Carlson, executive director of the council, said there is no time frame for the governor to make the appointment.

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