Federal judge nominee in Richland talks about same-sex marriage, mediation, diversity

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 13, 2013 

The nominee to become the new federal judge in Richland answered questions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on same-sex marriage, diversity, the unrepresented poor and the importance of mediation.

Stan Bastian, a Wenatchee attorney, was nominated in September to replace Judge Ed Shea on the Richland federal bench. Shea has moved to senior status in the Eastern Washington U.S. District Court and has a reduced workload.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced Bastian to the Senate committee, saying he was unanimously recommended by Democrats and Republicans as the next federal judge in Eastern Washington.

"Stan has described the ideal judicial temperament as one of fairness, impartiality, efficiency and patience, attributes that Stan displays time and time again in the courtroom, as a leader in his firm and as a leader in the bar," Murray said.

Bastian was president of the Washington State Bar Association in 2007-08 and is immediate past chairman of the Equal Justice Coalition, two roles that created the basis for questions from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member on the committee.

As bar president, Bastian signed the bar association board's 2008 resolution supporting equal access for same-sex couples to civil marriage and its benefits and responsibilities.

Bastian said as president he did not vote on the resolution but participated in the decision.

The bar's longstanding tradition is to abstain from political issues, Grassley said.

The issue has political implications, Bastian said. "But my job as president of the board of governors was to guide the bar in taking positions on legislation when asked to if the legislation impacted the practice of law and the administration of justice," he said.

The board did not poll membership before taking the stand, but for two years held seminars across the state and encouraged attorneys to attend and to be heard on the issue, he said.

Also as bar president, Bastian advocated for the right of the poor to have government-provided attorneys in civil trials.

That stand was based on the language of the Constitution and the fundamental right of justice for all, Bastian said.

Too many litigants cannot afford a lawyer and unequal representation puts a strain on the federal justice system, he said. It can be difficult for a judge to discern what the unrepresented party is trying to argue, but it is a challenge he could meet as a judge and would remain impartial whether a litigant had an attorney or not, he said.

Grassley also questioned Bastian about a past statement that "diversity is a journey, not a destination."

The public must trust that justice is delivered in a fair and impartial manner and that trust can easily be lost if attorneys and judges do not reflect the public they serve, Grassley quoted Bastian as saying.

The statement was meant to encourage discussion and debate among members of the bar on the importance of diversity, Bastian explained. Attorneys and judges are trained to respect the law, but "it is important to cast the net widely and have a diverse membership," he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., questioned Bastian about what the senator described as an increasing trend toward mediating cases.

The courts are backlogged with family law cases, particularly at the state level, and criminal cases, making it difficult to get civil cases to trial, Bastian said.

"Therefore it is important always to look to settlement conferences, mediation and arbitration, if necessary," he said.

In his private practice he tells clients his job is not necessarily to get their case to trial but to get the dispute resolved, he said.

Bastian said he would bring the same qualities important to him as an attorney to the federal bench -- fairness, hard work, careful listening, an opportunity for everyone to be heard and making sure people feel they are getting justice in the courtroom even if they are not pleased with the result.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also supports Bastian's nomination and is expected to speak on his behalf when the full Senate considers the nomination.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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