Last month, Idaho Supreme Court Justice Daniel “Dan” Eismann announced that he would be stepping down, effective Aug. 31 of this year. Eisemann’s term was set to end in 2019. His early announcement has triggered a feeding frenzy of interest.
When a Supreme Court justice steps down, the Idaho Judicial Counsel accepts applicants and then recommends 2-4 nominees to the governor. The governor makes the final choice.
Last week the Idaho Judicial Council announced that 15 applicants had applied for the position.
It is a fascinating list.
Two were candidates for former Chief Justice Jim Jones’ seat in 2016, Idaho Court of Appeals Judge Sergio Gutierrez and former Idaho State Sen. Curt McKenzie.
Gutierrez took third place in the 2016 4-way primary, taking 21.4% of the vote. He is a soft-spoken, respected jurist who is also a minority. His personal story is highly appealing.
McKenzie lost in the 2016 general election to current Justice Robyn Brody, 46.2% to 53.8%. He ran on his partisan GOP credentials, relying heavily on the Republican support of his legislative colleagues and seeking and getting the support of various of various conservative and business groups.
Six of the applicants are current Idaho district court judges: Judge Richard Bevan of Twin Falls, Judge Gregory Moeller of Rexburg, Judge Jason Scott of Boise, Judge John Stegner of Moscow, Judge Joel Tingey of Idaho Falls and Judge Susan Wiebe of Fruitland.
One, Steven Price of Garden City, is general counsel for a public entity, the Ada County Highway District.
Seven are attorneys in private practice: Andrew Doman of St. Maries, David Hamilton of Twin Falls, Michelle Points of Boise, Rebecca Rainey of Boise, Jeffrey Thomson of Boise and Wade Woodard also of Boise.
The possible permutations are intriguing.
Does the Judicial Counsel send to Otter the only current appellate judge of the group, Sergio Gutierrez? Does McKenzie’s 2016 campaign help or hurt his chances with both the Judicial Counsel and/or Gov. Otter?
Will any of the district court judges make the final cut? I only know two: Judge Moeller and Judge Tingey. Both are talented jurists. Presumably, the other four district judges are of similar caliber. Historically, many Idaho Supreme Court justices have been former district judges.
Given the nature of my legal practice (bankruptcy in federal court), I don’t know the attorney-applicants. I’m sure there is some significant legal talent in the set.
Only 3 of the 15 are women. Might that give an edge to one of those three?
One factor that may play some role in Gov. Otter’s decision is the electability of any candidate. Remember anyone he appoints will have to turn around and run in the May 2018 primary which will be just months after the appointment. Statewide campaigns are inherently difficult and winning statewide is even more daunting. Brody and McKenzie in 2016 raised $418,647.29 between them. Any nominee should expect to raise $200,000 at minimum to hold onto the seat.
Further complicating matters is the expected retirement of Justice Warren E. Jones. His seat will also be on the May 2018 ballot.
With two Idaho Supreme Court races on the ballot, with only one likely incumbent and a short term one at that, expect a large field and lots of money being spent. I predict some of those not appointed to the Eismann vacancy will turn around and run in 2018.