Tri-Cities judge nominated for U.S. District Court

The newest judge on the Benton-Franklin Superior Court bench appears to be a short-timer after his nomination Thursday for a federal judgeship.

Sal Mendoza Jr. was nominated by President Barack Obama for a lifetime appointment to U.S. District Court.

Mendoza, of Kennewick, became the first Latino judge in the bi-county judicial system when he was sworn in last May. He was also one of two Central Washington judges considered for the position.

The former lawyer had been appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to fill a Superior Court seat left empty after Judge Craig Matheson’s retirement.

The list of judicial nominations, released by the White House press office, will be sent to the Senate for confirmation hearings.

“I am pleased to nominate these distinguished individuals to serve on the United States District Court bench,” Obama said in a news release. “I am confident they will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.”

Mendoza was one of four people nominated Thursday for federal judgeships across the country.

Mendoza and Yakima Superior Court Judge Doug Federspiel were jointly recommended to Obama for the vacancy by U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, said Jared Leopold, Cantwell’s spokesman.

Federspiel, who was first elected as a District Court judge in 2010 and was elected in 2012 to Superior Court, said he was happy for Mendoza and wished him well in the confirmation process.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing to get your name all the way to the White House and then not be chosen, but I am very honored to have gone as far as I did in the nomination process,” Federspiel said, adding he was grateful to be considered.

Federspiel said Murray and Cantwell interviewed him in late fall after he applied for the vacancy.

Mendoza was picked last fall by an eight-person bipartisan committee in Eastern Washington to fill the vacancy left by Judge Lonny Suko.

Suko, a federal judge based in Yakima since 2003, went to senior status Nov. 1.

The Eastern District of Washington currently has two judicial nominees for vacancies.

Stan Bastian, a Wenatchee lawyer, was nominated in September to replace Judge Ed Shea in Richland. Shea went to senior status in June 2012.

The federal district covers all of Washington east of the Cascade Mountains. It has courthouses in Spokane, Yakima and Richland.

The annual salary for a federal judge is $174,000.

Bastian has completed a comprehensive questionnaire and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If a majority of the full Senate is in favor of his nomination, the president will be notified and Bastian confirmed as a new judge.

Mendoza will have to go through the same process in Washington, D.C.

Based on the hometowns of Bastian and Mendoza, there’s a possibility the district can move to swap the positions — assuming they’re both confirmed — so that Bastian would be based in Yakima and Mendoza in the Tri-Cities at the Federal Building.