For now, the status quo rules when it comes to filling judicial vacancies in Pierce County District Court.
A proposal to change the appointment process fell short Tuesday. County Council members lacked a supermajority of votes to change the existing system.
The rare appointment process – last invoked in 2003 – will fill a seat soon to be vacated by District Court Judge Jack Nevin, who is moving up to Superior Court in January. The council will appoint Nevin’s replacement.
A change proposed last month by the council alarmed the county’s legal community. In the past, the council relied on an ad-hoc committee to vet potential candidates for judicial appointments. The members of that committee included representatives from the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association, among others.
The new proposal altered the committee, subtracting bar association members while adding the county prosecutor, Mark Lindquist, and the county’s chief public defender, Michael Kawamura.
A revised version introduced Tuesday by Councilman Stan Flemming restored bar association members while retaining the prosecutor and eliminating the public defender.
Dawn Farina, Lindquist’s chief of staff, spoke in favor of the proposal.
“The committee as proposed is a fair and balanced one that will serve the community well,” she said.
Other speakers opposed the changes. Some were critical of the role the prosecutor’s office would play on the committee.
Jack Nevin, the judge whose departure will create the vacancy, said he and his fellow judges prefer the old system.
Diane Clarkson, a deputy prosecutor who works for Lindquist, spoke against the proposal.
“The one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the Pierce County prosecutor,” she said, citing the appearance of fairness. Clarkson urged the council to “maintain the status quo.”
Kawamura, the public defender, questioned the idea of including the prosecutor while excluding the public defender.
Flemming said his proposal was fair, and added that the prosecutor would represent only one vote among six.
Councilman Rick Talbert opposed the proposal on procedural grounds.
“We don’t codify any other committee of an ad hoc status like this anywhere else in our code,” he said.
The ordinance got 4 of 7 votes, but that wasn’t enough for passage.