Nine Tri-City attorneys have applied for appointment to the seat on the Benton County District Court bench vacated by Joe Burrowes.
Burrowes, who won a four-year term on the District Court bench in 2014, resigned after winning election to Benton-Franklin Superior Court in November. The appointee will complete the term, which expires in 2018.
The five judges of the Benton County District Court handle civil and criminal matters, small claims, anti-harassment cases and handles preliminary hearings for some felonies. The post pays $13,161 per month or nearly $158,000 annually.
Benton County released the job posting and names of the applicants this week after the Herald filed a Washington Public Records Act request. Applications, resumes letters of interest and letters of recommendation are considered confidential under Washington employment law and are not being released to the public.
The county administrator’s office is managing the process of appointing the new judge.
It is circulating resumes and other information about the candidates to officials at both Benton County Superior Court and Benton County District Court, as well as the managers of the cities served by district court — Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, Prosser and Benton City.
The Benton-Franklin Bar Association polled members for their views and the Office of Public Defense is conducting a separate poll of criminal defense attorneys. All feedback is due by Feb. 28.
$158,000 annual salary
2018 term expires
Results will help narrow the field to three to four finalists. The Benton County Commission, which will make the final choice, is tentatively scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. March 14 at the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick to interview the finalists.
In alphabetical order, the candidates are:
▪ Thomas J. Atwood — Atwood is a lifelong Tri-City resident who went through Kennewick Schools and studied law at the University of Puget Sound School of Law, now Seattle University. He worked in the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office and returned to the Tri-Cities, where he has worked as Kennewick’s city attorney, a public defender and a general practice attorney. He is a partner with the Richland law firm of Armstrong Klym Waite Atwood & Jameson. Being a judge would be an opportunity to take 30 years of legal experience and serve the community in a different way, he said.
▪ Jennifer Azure — Azure is a Benton County native who studied law at Gonzaga University. She has served as a judge pro tem in Benton County Courts for four years. Her private legal practice focuses on criminal defense, firearms rights and parental rights. She contracts with Benton and Franklin counties and the state Office of Public Defense to represent parents and children in dependency matters. Being a judge would leverage her experience as a judge pro tem to ensure all people in the justice system are treated with courtesy and respect, she said.
▪ James Bell — Bell was a longtime deputy prosecutor in Franklin County who is now a partner with the Kennewick firm of Bell Brown & Rio PLLC. He could not be reached, but according to his Washington State Bar public profile, his small firm practices business/commercial, contract, criminal, elder, estate planning/probate/wills and real property law.
▪ Tyler Everett — Everett is a Prosser native who studied law at Gonzaga University. He practices in Grandview and spends much of his time in district court. He has served as a judge pro tem in the Benton County District Court’s Prosser courtroom since 2006, which he said gives him an appreciation for the service the court provides to the community. Being a judge would allow him to treat the citizens who come through district court as customers, he said.
▪ Raymond Hui — Hui, a longtime Tri-City attorney, studied law at Oregon’s Willamette University. He has worked as a an assistant city attorney in Kennewick and Richland, where he prosecuted misdemeanor cases in district court. In 2002, he formed a private partnership that contracted with most area cities to prosecute district court cases. He also provided legal services to government agencies. He became a private criminal defense attorney in 2009. Becoming a judge would bring his experience on both sides of the table to the courtroom, he said.
▪ Tonya Meehan — Meehan is an Anchorage native who studied law at Willamette University. She is a longtime Tri-City attorney with experience in both Superior Court, where larger cases with larger stakes are heard, and District Court. She focuses on domestic and criminal defense as well as estate and business law. Becoming a judge would allow her to serve the community in a new way, she said.
▪ Scott Naccarato — Naccarato is a Tri-City native who graduated from Kamiakin High School and studied law at Gonzaga University. He has been in private practice since 1996 and formerly contracted with Benton County to represent indigent defendants in District Court. The bulk of his current practice is representing criminal defendants in District Court. He works on some felonies. Becoming a judge would allow him to bring his experience as an attorney to the bench.
▪ Randal Steckel — Steckel is an attorney with Ashby Law, a Kennewick firm that focuses on family law. His profile indicates he practices in Kennewick but gives no practice areas or other specifics. He could not be reached.
▪ John Ziobro — Ziobro was Kennewick’s city attorney from 1999 to 2007 and has since joined the Richland firm Telquist Ziobro McMillen PPLC. He declined to comment on his application for the post. According to an online profile on his firm’s website, Ziobro represents developers on land use matters and is active in civil litigation, business disputes, construction litigation and employment matters.