Federal bench nominee Jones wins high praise from both parties
Local lawyers and judges, including former U.S. Attorney John McKay, say the King County Superior Court judge is the right man for the federal bench.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Although it comes at a time of intense partisan bickering, President Bush's nomination of King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones to the federal bench is winning widespread praise from local Democrats and Republicans involved in the selection process.
Jones' nomination last week for U.S. District Court judge was overshadowed by the national controversy over the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys. The coveted lifetime judicial appointment also had been sought by John McKay, the U.S. attorney for Western Washington, who was one of the eight federal prosecutors fired last year. Though McKay had been regarded by some local lawyers as a front-runner for the judicial post, he didn't make the list of three finalists because Republicans on a local merit-selection panel wouldn't support him.
Local lawyers and judges said Jones is extraordinarily qualified to join the federal judiciary.
Even McKay, who has known Jones for years and chaired his first judicial campaign, called him "a fantastic candidate" for the federal bench.
Jones, 56, has served as a Superior Court judge since 1994, earning high marks from lawyers and his colleagues. His résumé also includes stints as an assistant U.S. attorney, lawyer for the Port of Seattle, deputy county prosecutor and associate at the former powerhouse law firm Bogle & Gates.
"It will be very sad if in any way, shape or form, political controversy diminishes the spectacular qualifications of Richard Jones," said J. Vander Stoep, the Republican co-chair of the panel that picked the finalists.
Richard A. Jones
President Bush last week nominated King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones to be a U.S. district judge for Western Washington
Experience: King County Superior Court judge since 1994; assistant U.S. attorney, 1988-1994; lawyer at Bogle & Gates handling cases including psychiatric malpractice and labor arbitration, 1983-1987; staff attorney for Port of Seattle, 1978-1983; King County deputy prosecutor, 1975-1978
Education: law degree, University of Washington, 1975; bachelor's of public affairs, Seattle University, 1972
Major cases: 2003: Sentenced Green River Killer Gary Ridgway to 48 consecutive life terms. 2004: sentenced a former sheriff's deputy convicted of trying to hire a hit man to kill his family to the maximum 60 years. 2005: ruled a business-backed group must disclose donors who financed television attack ads against attorney-general candidate Deborah Senn.
Personal: Half-brother of musician Quincy Jones. Married to Leslie Jones, diversity program manager for Sound Transit.
Jenny Durkan, the Democratic co-chair, called Jones "an excellent, merit-based nomination." She added: "He should have been considered by any White House, whether it be George Bush or Bill Clinton."
While the Bush administration has at times come under fire for nominating Republican loyalists and conservative ideologues to some judicial openings, Jones doesn't fit that category. If anything, he leans Democratic, although he has been careful to avoid blatantly partisan activities, according to friends and selection-panel members.
Fred Kiga, who served as chief of staff to former Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, was Jones' campaign treasurer and has known him since law school.
"In talking to him, I don't think he is either left or right, but like many of us in the Northwest, a centrist," Kiga said.
Jones declined to comment except for a written statement saying he was honored to be nominated and looked forward to a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If confirmed, he will fill the vacancy created when U.S. District Judge John Coughenour took senior status in July.
A half-brother of celebrated musician Quincy Jones, Jones received his law degree from the University of Washington in 1975. In addition to his work as a lawyer, prosecutor and judge, he has been deeply involved in volunteer activities as a YMCA board member and mentor to minority youths.
As a judge, Jones has presided over many high-profile cases — none more so than in 2003, when he sentenced the Green River Killer, Gary L. Ridgway, to 48 consecutive life terms in a plea deal that spared Ridgway from the death penalty.
Jones was widely praised for his handling of that case, particularly for his sensitivity to the families of Ridgway's 48 confirmed victims.
He called for a dramatic 48 seconds of silence prior to handing down Ridgway's sentence and lectured to the killer: "the women you killed were not throwaways, or pieces of candy in a dish, put upon this Earth to satisfy your murderous desires."
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng said Jones' conduct in that case demonstrated his "intuitive sense of what justice is all about."
Others said Jones applies the same thoughtful approach to cases out of the media spotlight.
"The test of one's performance is the way they handle the smaller cases," said King County Superior Court Judge William Downing. "Richard displays precisely that same degree of sensitivity to all that appear before him."
Jones was among the most-highly rated King County Superior Court judges in a 2003 survey of lawyers by the King County Bar Association. In 2004, he was named "judge of the year" by the King County and Washington state bar associations.
His nomination came about through a process intended to force political parties to cooperate in the state's selection of federal judges.
The process began in 1997 after an agreement between Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton and the Clinton administration. The panel makes recommendations to the president, and they generally have been followed.
The makeup of each panel varies, but must include three Democrats and three Republicans. Michael Rickert, a Skagit County Superior Court judge, and Marc Boman, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie, were the other two finalists besides Jones sent to the White House last August by the panel.
Although McKay was left off that list, he had some support in high places, recently released e-mails in the U.S. attorney-firing controversy show.
On Aug. 8 last year, former Justice Department Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson e-mailed a White House official to complain that McKay "got screwed" by the selection panel and urged the White House to consider him anyway. The next day, in an e-mail to someone else about McKay, Sampson wrote, "it's highly unlikely that we could do better in Seattle."
But the support for McKay and the judgeship — and eventually his job — evaporated.
McKay requested and got a meeting with White House Counsel Harriet Miers in late August. At that meeting, McKay said he was asked to explain why some Washington state Republicans felt he'd "mishandled" allegations of voter fraud during the closely fought 2004 governor's race.
McKay was fired in December.
Republicans on the selection panel have said qualifications, not politics, kept McKay off their list of finalists to be interviewed. Vander Stoep said he wanted candidates with significant trial experience, a qualification Jones has clearly demonstrated.
Another panel member said the final result is beyond reproach.
"Judge Jones was the best candidate in there; that's really the bottom line for me," said Craig Allen, a law professor at the University of Washington and one of the three Republicans on the selection panel. "The state of Washington is going to be very proud to have him as a federal judge."
Staff reporters David Bowermaster and Alicia Mundy contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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