A Tri-Citian could be the next state Supreme Court justice. 2 local judges being considered

Two Tri-Cities judges have applied for an opening on the Washington state Supreme Court.

Judges Alex Ekstrom and George B. Fearing are among the 12 who submitted applications for consideration to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Ekstrom is on the Benton-Franklin Superior Court bench, and Fearing is a member of the Washington state Court of Appeals, Division III, based in Spokane.

The rare vacancy comes after Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst announced last month that she will be retiring to focus on her health as she battles her third round of cancer.

Her retirement takes effect Jan. 5. She has been on the bench since 2003.

The appointee will serve out the final year of Fairhurst’s six-year term. Then, the judge will face election in November 2020.

Washington state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst will retire Jan. 5 to focus on her health while battling her third round of cancer. Twelve people have applied for the vacancy. Elaine Thompson AP file photo

But first, Inslee’s legal team needs to interview each applicant over the coming weeks.

Inslee plans to make his decision the first week of December, and will announce the new Supreme Court justice in Olympia, according to Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee.

Both Ekstrom and Fearing were appointed by Inslee to their current positions, before going on to be re-elected.

Fearing had been a lawyer for more than 30 years when he was selected in 2013 to replace Judge Dennis Sweeney. He’d been with the same Kennewick law firm his entire career, and still has a home in Richland.

Judge George Fearing File Tri-City Herald

Fearing holds the appeals court’s District 2 seat representing nine southeastern counties, including Benton and Franklin. The court reviews the decisions of trial judges and juries.

Ekstrom in 2014 was picked to fill the seat left vacant with Judge Sal Mendoza Jr.’s appointment to the federal court.

The Richland resident worked in the prosecutor’s offices in both Franklin and Benton counties before becoming a federal prosecutor for six years.

He serves on the Superior Court bench with six other judges and three court commissioners. The court handles both adult and juvenile criminal cases, along with civil matters like lawsuits and family law issues, and appeals from lower court.

Alex Ekstrom Robe
Judge Alex Ekstrom

The other 10 applicants for the Supreme Court are: Laura Anglin of Olympia, James Davenport of Buena, Jack Fiander of Yakima, Mary Gaston of Seattle, Judge Millie Judge of Everett, Jodi McDougall of Seattle, Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis of Bellingham, Patrick Palace of Tacoma, Judge Michael Price of Spokane and Judge G. Helen Whitener of Tacoma.

It was announced Wednesday that Judge Debra L. Stephens has been selected by her peers to serve as the next chief justice of the state’s highest court.

Stephens, who is from Spokane was first appointed to the court in 2008. She became the first judge from the Court of Appeals, Division III, and the first woman from Eastern Washington to serve on the Supreme Court.

“I am honored to be selected by my colleagues, and look forward to working with them and others throughout the judicial branch to ensure justice for every person in the state of Washington,” Stephens said following her election to chief justice. “We will all miss Mary greatly. She has been an amazing and inspirational leader for so many years, and I hope to continue in her tradition.”

Stephens will be sworn in as chief on Jan. 6, along with Inslee’s appointee for the vacant seat.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.