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Zappone, Biviano lead in Spokane County District Court races

Courtesy of Jenny Zappone/Savanna Rothe/SPR
Jenny Zappone and Andrew Biviano lead in the two contested races for District Court seats.

They would join six judges who were re-elected in races in which they were unopposed.

Spokane County voters have re-elected six District Court judges and chosen two new people to take over for jurists who are leaving the bench.

The six who were elected for new four-year terms are Patrick Johnson, Jeffrey Smith, Patti Connolly Walker, Jennifer Fassbender, Aimee Maurer and Richard Leland. All ran unopposed.

In the contested race for District Court position 3, Jenny Zappone leads Eric Dooyema by a two-to-one margin for the seat being vacated by Judge Donna Wilson. Andrew Biviano holds a small lead over Deanna Crull for the position 6 seat now held by Debra Hayes. He has a little more than 51% of the vote.

Jenny Zappone supervises about 20 people in the Spokane County prosecutor’s office’s, some of them attorneys who try felony cases and others who are victim advocates. She works with police to determine which cases to send to court and still argues a few cases herself.

“At this point in my career, I’ve handled behavioral health issues, supervising our behavioral health unit. I’ve worked with children and I’ve worked prosecuting some of the most violent offenders in town,” she said in an interview earlier this fall.

Now the voters have apparently entrusted her to move to the other side of the bench and listen to attorneys making their cases, rather than arguing them herself.

“I want to instill faith in our justice system. I want people to know that it’s fair,” she said. “I want people to know that when they come before me, they’re going to get a fair shake and that each person is going to be recognized and be shown dignity. I think a lot of people feel like they’re not heard in our justice system, from victims, even to defendants, they don’t feel heard.”

Biviano runs his own law firm that focuses heavily on civil rights cases.

“I have people who I’ve been able to help who have been wrongfully prosecuted for speaking their minds. One of my clients was prosecuted for writing in sidewalk chalk a political message and she had her First Amendment rights violated. Or people who were put in solitary confinement for too long or victims of crime were locked up after being found mentally ill,” he said in an interview in October.

He has also worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office and in two Spokane law firms. He has also been a case manager at what was formerly known as Spokane Mental Health and a Spokane County District Judge Pro Tem for a year.

“Judges have a superior opportunity to do good in the world. They really have a chance with the number of people that they interact with and the important issues they decide to make a profound difference in their community,” he said.

Biviano is a financial supporter of Spokane Public Radio.

Judicial races become more visible…and expensive

For years, district court judicial races in Spokane have been largely overshadowed by campaigns for policy-making positions. Incumbents often have the luxury of running unopposed until they retire. But open seats are becoming more competitive with candidates spending large amounts of money to gain name recognition in races in which candidates are constrained by judicial rules from disclosing their views on a wide variety of legal issues. For example, all of the four candidates in contested races declined to offer a position on whether the county needs a new jail.

This year, three of the four candidates (Crull, Zappone and Dooyema) in the contested races reported raising about $80,000 or more to fund their campaigns. Biviano had raised about $41,000. It points to the fact that even judicial races require major resources.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.