Wenatchee attorney put forward for federal judge

By:  Wenatchee World – Jefferson Robbins
Source: Wenatchee World

A Benton-Franklin Superior Court judge and a Wenatchee lawyer are the finalists to replace Judge Ed Shea on the Richland federal bench.

Judge Cameron Mitchell and Stan Bastian have been recommended for the lifetime appointment to U.S. District Court, an aide with Sen. Patty Murray’s office confirmed.

The two names were sent to the White House in June, and now it is up to President Barack Obama to nominee a candidate for Senate confirmation, the aide told the Herald.

Mitchell is a Richland native who’s been on the bench since July 2004, when he was appointed by the state governor to replace a retiring Superior Court judge.

Mitchell, who is black, became the bicounty court’s first minority judge, following predecessor Carolyn Brown’s lead as the court’s first female judge.

Bastian is managing partner in the Wenatchee law firm of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Aylward. His legal expertise is in healthcare, civil rights, discrimination, employment law, police liability and labor negotiations.

Bastian previously was an applicant in 2011, to replace U.S. District Court Judge James Whaley on his move to senior status; and in 2009, to replace retiring Judge James Van Sickle. Obama instead appointed former federal prosecutor Thomas O. Rice to Whaley’s Spokane post, and Rosanna Malouf Peterson to replace Van Sickle.

Bastian is married to Chelan County Superior Court Judge Alicia Nakata. He’s often represented local municipalities in court, including the city of Wenatchee when it faced civil suits brought by former defendants in the tainted sex abuse arrests of the 1990s.

Bastian is a graduate of University of Oregon, and received his law degree from University of Washington. He was admitted to the state bar in 1983.

Shea, who’s been with U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Washington since 1998, went to senior status in June 2012. That means he’s in semi-retired mode and only needs to handle 50 percent of the average number of cases taken by his colleagues, while drawing a full salary.

A politically charged appointment process could delay a successor from moving in any time soon to Shea’s old chambers in the Federal Building. The annual salary is $174,000.

There currently are 87 vacancies on the federal district and appellate courts, with 35 nominees pending, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The majority of the judicial vacancies have been open since 2011 and 2012, but some date back to 2009 and even 2005.

An eight-person bipartisan committee was created by Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell to evaluate potential candidates for Shea’s post. Nancy Isserlis, Spokane city attorney and a Democrat, has told the Herald that the committee received a number of applications and decided to interview five people.

Background checks and committee reports were done on all the candidates before the May 31 interviews. That significant due diligence helped committee members reach “a consensus quite quickly,” Isserlis said.

That same day, they forwarded Mitchell and Bastian’s names on for consideration to Murray’s office, as the senior of the two U.S. senators.

The federal Eastern District covers all of Washington east of the Cascade Mountains. The district has courthouses in Spokane, Yakima and Richland. Spokane has two full-time judges — known as active judges — and four senior judges, a well as a magistrate judge.

Yakima has one active judge — Lonny Suko, who last month announced he will move to senior status in November — and a magistrate. Richland only has Shea, who was the first federal judge to be based full-time in the Tri-Cities.