Okanogan County will have a new District Court judge starting early next year.
After interviewing three applicants last week, the Okanogan County commissioners selected Chancey Crowell, who has been a judge for the East Wenatchee Municipal Court for the past 12 years.
Crowell has also served as a judge pro tem in Okanogan County District Court for several years, handling cases when one of the county’s judges had a conflict or when the court needed additional help.
Crowell starts on Jan. 4. He replaces Robert Grim, who resigned because he has joined a private practice as an attorney, Okanogan County Human Resources Director Tanya Everett said. The position will be on the ballot in November 2022, and Crowell will need to be elected to remain in the post, Everett said.
The other two applicants were Ted Reinbold, a senior attorney for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and Kathryn Burke, who has been Ferry County prosecutor for seven years.
Crowell graduated from Omak High School but has spent most of his legal career in Wenatchee. He will move to Okanogan County, as required by state law.
Crowell has been an attorney for 44 years, 35 of them with a focus on civil lawsuits, which he called the more complex area of law. He had a private practice in Wenatchee, both on his own and in partnership with other attorneys, handling civil and criminal cases.
In his application materials, Crowell said he’s an expert in handling complex cases and legal questions. He has presided over more than 100 jury trials, as well as other hearings and arraignments.
The commissioners asked the same eight questions of each applicant, regarding the key qualities for a district court judge, how their leadership style would complement the District Court, and how they have encouraged the open expression of ideas and opinions. They also asked about significant trends in criminal justice. The commissioners praised all three candidates for their complete applications.
The most important qualities for a judge are the knowledge to apply the law and rules of evidence, and to have a good demeanor to listen and control the court, Crowell told the commissioners.
“You treat people with respect and courtesy until they don’t deserve it anymore,” he said. “There sometimes comes a point when you have to shut it down, without anger or threats, to keep control of the courtroom and make sure matters are heard properly and decided fairly.”
The most important values for a leader are calmness, courtesy and respect. It’s important to show that court staff are working together to provide justice, Crowell said.
Asked to describe ways he’s encouraged the open expression of ideas and created a safe environment for people to present controversial or unpopular opinions, Crowell said that the situation hadn’t arisen. He credited good communications and the opportunity for private conversations about issues.
Crowell pointed to his long experience in court as one reason he doesn’t experience extreme pressure. “I’ve done this so many times – quite frankly, I’m humbled. But I know more about the law than the attorneys who appear in front of me, who are usually young,” Crowell said. “I’m always able to make a decision and live with it.”
Crowell said he follows a thoughtful process to reach an appropriate decision, but doesn’t agonize over the decisions.
Significant trends in criminal justice include “misguided attempts by the Legislature to reform the police,” Crowell said. The trend seems to be “to treat everyone softly,” he said.
The system is changing with regard to prosecution and in approaches to punishment and rehabilitation, Crowell said. “There’s nothing wrong with rehabilitation, but sometimes it is better to get it over with,” he said. Some defendants are scared enough by the process, but for others, it doesn’t matter, he said.
Reinbold, a lifelong resident of Okanogan County, told the commissioners that he considers the many ways in which courts have an impact on people’s lives and in the community at large. Reinbold described himself as a good listener who values input from everyone involved.
Burke, who also grew up in Okanogan County, highlighted her humility and patience with co-workers and everyone in court, from lawyers to witnesses to defendants.