Kennewick attorney George Fearing named appeals court judge

Twenty-two years later, George Fearing is following in the footsteps of his former law partner.

Fearing was a junior in law school at the University of Washington in 1981 when attorney Dennis Sweeney offered him a summer internship with a Tri-City firm.

His stint as a clerk came with a job offer and, after graduating in 1982, Fearing returned to Kennewick. Sweeney left the firm in 1991 when he was elected to the Washington state Court of Appeals.

On Monday, Fearing was appointed to the Division III bench in Spokane to replace Judge Sweeney, who retired April 30.

“He’s the one responsible for my getting my job in the Tri-Cities, and now he’s retiring and I’m getting his job,” Fearing told the Herald, hours after accepting the appointment by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“It’s very exciting,” he added. “It’s an emotional day, and it’s bittersweet because I’ve had wonderful clients and I’ve had wonderful partners, and I will be missing them.”

Fearing will start June 24, with a swearing-in ceremony planned for sometime that week. He will be the third person in the court’s 44-year history to hold the District 2 seat representing nine southeastern counties.

Division III covers everything east of the Cascades. The court reviews the decisions of trial judges. It can affirm a case by finding that a judge did everything right, send it back for a new trial or sentencing, or dismiss the matter.

Fearing, 55, recognizes it will be a big change to don the black robe this summer.

The son of a Seventh-day Adventist minister, Fearing moved around the country before attending Walla Walla College for his bachelor’s in business administration.

He’s only had one job as an adult — having been with the same firm since his law-school days in Seattle — and now must wrap up his caseload and say goodbye to his partners at Leavy, Schultz, Davis & Fearing.

Fearing’s focus has been in civil litigation, representing municipalities like Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, Benton and Franklin counties and other cities throughout Eastern Washington. He also has handled cases for school and irrigation districts.

Fearing said the Court of Appeals will be a good fit for him because he’s handled many appeals in his more than 30 years practicing law. He estimates that in a given year, he’s written between 10 and 15 appeal briefs and argued before the judges five to 10 times.

“If I’ve had any talent, it’s been in legal research and writing, and that’s what Court of Appeals judges do. We don’t hear trials,” he said.

Judge Sweeney announced earlier this year that he would retire after 21 years with the court. His replacement was appointed, since Sweeney left two years into a six-year term.

The Governor’s Office said last week that four people had applied for the position. A Court of Appeals judge makes about $150,000 a year.

Terry Bloor, a Benton County chief criminal deputy prosecutor, was one of the finalists.

Bloor and Fearing met separately with Inslee and his general counsel, Nicholas Brown, on Thursday in Olympia.Inslee offered the job to Fearing on Monday morning.

“It was a very nice, kind call from him,” Fearing said. He wanted to keep most of what was discussed private, but said Inslee told him, “I look forward to your being an excellent judge.”

Inslee issued his own statement Monday, saying: “George has a long history of serving the people of Tri-Cities and is widely respected throughout the local bar community for his legal abilities.”

“He has a passion for public service and I know will be a very competent and skilled appeals court judge,” the governor said.

Fearing said he will keep his home in Richland, but likely will get a temporary apartment in Spokane so he won’t have to commute each day.

He has a 17-year-old son who lives with his mother in Spokane.

“It’s a big honor,” Fearing said. “It’s an honor to be appointed by Gov. Inslee, and I pray that I will do an excellent job for the citizens of Washington state.”

Both Fearing and Bloor filed last week to run for the position in the General Election. However, they’d agreed that they would step aside and support the successful candidate.

“I have high respect for Terry and if he had been appointed, I would not have run,” Fearing said.

Instead, Bloor sent a letter to the Washington Secretary of State’s Office late Monday afternoon and withdrew his name from the ballot.

“I think George would be a very good appellate court judge,” Bloor told the Herald.

Fearing still will have to campaign to keep his seat since Gary Metro, a Tri-City defense attorney, joined the race Friday before the filing period closed.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531;; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer