Four Kennewick attorneys have made the final cut for consideration to be the next Benton County District Court judge.
Finalists Jennifer Azure, Jim Bell, Julie Long and Stephen Osborne are set to be interviewed Dec. 15 by the Benton County commissioners.
The lawyers are seeking appointment to the position left vacant by Judge Bob Ingvalson’s sudden departure in late October.
Ingvalson, 62, retired after almost 22 years on the bench. Since he left before his term was done, the county commissioners must pick a replacement.
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The successful candidate must stand for reelection in 2018.
“I want to see someone who is going to be willing to run for election next time when this term is up,” said Jerome Delvin, board chairman. “Someone to commit to running so there is some stability there and they might be around for a while.”
District Court judges serve four-year terms and make an annual salary of nearly $155,000. They preside over misdemeanors, infractions, criminal traffic and non-traffic cases and mitigation and contested hearings.
The Benton County District Court has five judges.
Fourteen people submitted applications during a three-week period in November.
The other applicants were Scott Naccarato, Tyler Everett, Terry Preszler, Ryan Lukson, Jefferson Coulter, Tonya Meehan, Raymond Hui, Stacey McKinley, Tedman Sams and Joshua Lilly.
It’s tough when you have to make those kinds of decisions.
Loretta Smith Kelty, deputy county administrator
One of them “didn’t follow procedure” with the application process and was not interviewed this past Wednesday by a five-person committee, said Loretta Smith Kelty, deputy county administrator.
District Court Administrator Jacki Lahtinen, Benton County Clerk Josie Delvin, Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley and Richland City Manager Cindy Reents, along with Smith Kelty, met with each candidate for a half hour.
To be fair and equitable, the committee asked the same three questions relating to knowledge, character and effectiveness.
The plan had been to submit three names to the commissioners, but Smith Kelty said they had a tie and opted to recommend their top four.
“It’s always an eye opener when you go through the interview process, being on that side,” said Smith Kelty. “There were no surprises, but it’s just that you get to meet a lot of different people … and it’s tough when you have to make those kinds of decisions.”
Now those finalists will face the commissioners starting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the commissioner’s boardroom at the Benton County Courthouse, 620 Market St., Prosser.
The interviews will be conducted during a public meeting, which may be followed by an executive session for the commissioners to either make their selection or delay the appointment.
Delvin will review comments made by the interview committee and the bar poll results before questioning the finalists, he said. In addition to a commitment, he wants to see a new judge with experience and a good grounding in law.
Bell, Long and Osborne were in the top four for “first overall choice” in the Benton Franklin Counties Bar Association poll, with Osborne taking the top spot. Azure came in sixth in the results.
Naccarato is the one name in the top four who did not advance.
Delvin might ask fellow commissioners Shon Small and James Beaver to push the decision until after the holiday season is over, he said.
“Then we can take a fresh look at the three and decide if we need to fill that position right away or we wait,” he told the Herald.
District Court officials hope to have the new judge in place sometime in January.