Eugster takes run at Superior Court [Corrected 02/27/04]

Eugster takes run at Superior Court [Corrected 02/27/04]

Kevin Blocker Staff writer

Former Spokane City Councilman Steve Eugster hopes his bid for Superior Court judge this fall goes better than his recent efforts at home improvement.

While nursing a bum ankle at home Tuesday, Eugster formally announced he will run against incumbent Judge Tari Eitzen.

Eugster – who called Eitzen one of the bench’s “weaker judges” – said he sprained his ankle after falling four feet off a ladder as he tried to remodel his garage.

Eugster, who has practiced law in Spokane since 1977, said the current group of 12 judges is as “mediocre as it has ever been.”

“It’s the Gonzaga University friends and neighbors popularity contest,” Eugster said. “My main desire is to get the community to start thinking about the Superior Court bench.”

Of Eitzen, Eugster said: “You don’t get on the bench just to do drug court.”

Eitzen has been overseeing drug court since 2000. However, since her appointment to Superior Court in February 1994, she has presided over both civil and criminal jury and non-jury trials.

She was the presiding juvenile court judge in 1997 and criminal presiding judge in 1998 and 2002, according to her resume.

In response to her challenger, Eitzen said: “Judges are elected officers, and it’s good for the community to have that input. I stand by my record.”

Court records, however, show that of the 12 current judges, only three – Robert Austin, Kathleen O’Connor and Sam Cozza – initially won their positions at the polls instead of being appointed by governors.

Once appointed by the governor, a judge is rarely rejected by the electorate.

Former Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue, who retired last year, never faced an election challenger in the 22 years before he retired, records show.

“I believe that it is time for us to challenge our judiciary, to see if we cannot improve on what has become a court that has seen better days and is on the path to decline,” Eugster wrote in a press release.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins defended the effort of her colleagues.

“We are hard at work and committed to justice in a time where resources are stretched thin,” Tompkins said.

Eugster said the Superior Court lacks “diversity and broad experience,” and has become “incestuous.”

“Judges should not endorse each other for office,” Eugster wrote.

“Such self-endorsements essentially say to those who might be interested in running for a judicial position, `Don’t you dare run against this person or that person, she is one of us and you are not,'” Eugster wrote.

Not since 1996, when Cozza defeated Royce Moe, has a challenger unseated an incumbent from Superior Court. In that same election, nine incumbent Superior Court judges ran unopposed.

Since Cozza was elected, Gov. Gary Locke has appointed judges Ellen Clark, Maryann Moreno, Jerome Leveque, Mike Price and Tompkins to the bench.

Eugster filed paperwork to run against Moreno after she ordered him to pay $43,875 in attorneys fees last spring.

Moreno made the order after she dismissed a lawsuit Eugster filed against Spokane County Commissioner Phil Harris.

Eugster sought to invalidate a September 2002 primary election in which he ran as a Democrat for county commissioner. He lost the party’s nomination to Louise Chadez, who eventually lost to Harris.

Eugster said Tuesday that he decided not to run against Moreno because he didn’t want people to think he was retaliating for her decision.

“I didn’t want people to think I was angry with the judge,” Eugster said.

Copyright 2004 Cowles Publishing Company

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