TWIN FALLS — Two locals are on the list of potential candidates to succeed Daniel Eismann on the Idaho Supreme Court.
Fifth Judicial District Administrative Judge Richard Bevan and Twin Falls attorney David Hamilton have both applied.
The list of 15 prospective replacements was announced Friday and includes five other district judges, as well as Judge Sergio Gutierrez from the Idaho Court of Appeals and former state Sen. Curt McKenzie, both of whom ran for the court unsuccessfully last year.
The Idaho Judicial Council will vet and interview the Supreme Court candidates before sending a short-list to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who will appoint one to serve out the rest of Eismann’s term. That judge will then be up for election in May 2018, and possibly a runoff in November 2018.
Several other local candidates are also vying for judicial vacancies across the state and in the Magic Valley, with the Judicial Council planning to meet in the coming weeks to interview candidates for two upcoming district judge vacancies in Blaine and Cassia counties.
For each open judicial position, the council is responsible for vetting those who apply, seeking comments though anonymous surveys from other lawyers and the public, interviewing the candidates and sending a short-list of two to four names to the governor.
“Our duty is to get the best possible people,” said Tony Cantrill, the Judicial Council’s executive director.
For the Supreme Court vacancy created by Eismann’s early retirement in August, the process of choosing a new Justice is still in the early stages. The deadline to apply for the position was 5 p.m. on May 10, and the council released the names of those applicants the next day.
Next, Cantrill and his staff will vet the candidates and seek comments from the public through a questionnaire and other lawyers through a State Bar survey. Later, they’ll conduct interviews before choosing the names to send to Otter.
“The vetting process is very, very thorough,” Cantrill said. “We check tax records, criminal records, civil records, prior discipline with the Bar. We check everything we can conceivably think of.”
Those who complete questionnaires and surveys do so anonymously. On the State Bar survey, questions are asked about the candidates with a zero to five scoring scale. If the survey-taker gives a candidate a one or zero on any question, they must explain why. When the surveys are collected, the Judicial Council compiles the scores and informs each candidate of their ranking between one and five.
“Some of these candidates really get nailed to the wall,” Cantrill said. “If you want to be a judge, you better be professional.”
The two upcoming vacancies in the Magic Valley are further along in the process. The vetting is complete and the surveys have been tallied.
The council will interview candidates May 24 to succeed District Judge Michael Crabtree in Cassia County. On June 20, the council will interview those hoping to succeed District Judge Robert Elgee in Blaine County.
Each interview lasts 30 minutes and the public is welcome to attend and observe but can’t ask questions, Cantrill said. After the interviews are complete, the seven-member Judicial Council meets behind closed doors to debate and decide on the two to four best candidates.
All candidates for the Cassia County vacancy are Magic Valley locals: Fifth Judicial District Magistrate Judge Blaine Cannon; Cassia County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Abenroth; Twin Falls County Senior Deputy Public Defender Samuel Beus; and Michael Tribe of Rupert, Jeremy Vaughn of Filer and Clayne Zollinger of Burley, all of whom are attorneys in private practice.
Beus and Vaughn have also applied for the Blaine County vacancy, along with other local candidates including Magistrate Judge Roger Harris, who works mostly in Twin Falls. Other Magic Valley residents seeking that position are Twin Falls County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rosemary Emory and Hailey lawyer Ned Williamson. The other candidates: First Judicial District Court Assistance Officer Jay Sturgell of Coeur d’Alene; Idaho Falls lawyer Nancy Monson; and Boise lawyer Stephen Adams.
Otter will eventually appoint successors for Crabtree and Elgee, and they’ll also face voters in 2018.
Aside from some basic age and experience requirements, there are few barriers to anyone with a law license becoming a judge, Cantrill said. One does not need to be a magistrate before applying to be a district judge, or a district judge before applying to the Supreme Court.
“That would ruin judgeships,” Cantrill said. “It sends a bad message to lawyers that this job is for judges only. It really isn’t. The candidates come from varied backgrounds. We just want to get the best two to four candidates in front of the governor.”
As for Otter’s decision, Cantrill said he doesn’t know how the governor chooses from the names he receives. The Judicial Council simply turns over the short-list of names along with the information obtained during the vetting and surveying process.
“I don’t know his vetting process,” Cantrill said. “He doesn’t interfere with us and we don’t interfere with him.”
Meanwhile, private attorney Lynn Dunlap, of Twin Falls, is among 12 candidates vying for an upcoming vacancy on the Idaho Court of Appeals.
And Fifth District Magistrate Judge Calvin Campbell recently applied for district judgeships in the Third and Fourth Judicial Districts. He was not included on the final list submitted to the governor for either vacancy.