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 Obama to nominate 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.
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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 a 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's biography states on the firm's website.
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.
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.
Shea was eligible to take senior status in 2010, yet delayed going part time while new senior judge chambers were built at the Richland courthouse. The new chambers opened nearly 1 1/2 years ago.
Applications for his position were accepted at the start of this year. An eight-person bipartisan committee was created by Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell to evaluate potential candidates.
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 senators would have done their own interviews before sending their recommendations to Washington, D.C.
Mitchell previously was a hearing judge in the state's Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals office in Kennewick, worked in the Department of Energy's legal department in Richland and spent five years in the attorney general's Kennewick office.
Mitchell is a graduate of Washington State University and received his law degree from Willamette University in Salem, Ore. He was admitted to the state bar in 1987.
Bastian early in his career served as a law clerk for state Court of Appeals Judge Ward Williams, and worked as an assistant city attorney in the criminal division of the Seattle City Attorney's Office. He was a longtime board member of LAW Fund ensuring equal justice for Washingtonians, was president of the Washington State Bar Association in 2007-08 and is immediate past chairman of the Equal Justice Coalition.
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.
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.
To give an idea of how long the judicial appointment process can take, Shea was selected by an advisory committee as a finalist in November 1996 to replace Judge Alan McDonald.
Shea, a Pasco lawyer, was nominated by President Bill Clinton in September 1997, confirmed by the Senate in March 1998 and sworn in two months later.
With the recommendations of Mitchell and Bastian in hand, the White House should have begun the vetting process which includes thorough background and security checks.
At some point, Obama will formally nominate his top pick to fill Shea's seat, then the nominee must complete a comprehensive questionnaire and testify at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The committee looks to see if the candidate has the endorsement of his home state senators. Ultimately, the nomination should go to the floor for full Senate consideration and, if there's a majority in favor, the president will be notified and the nomination is confirmed.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer