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For the week of May 17 through May 23, 2000

Supreme Court race is a nasty contest


COEUR D’ALENE—A second ethics complaint has been lodged against state Supreme Court challenger Daniel Eismann in a supposedly nonpartisan campaign that has become increasingly partisan.

Coeur d'Alene attorney and prominent Democrat Scott Reed has asked the state Judicial Council to determine whether Eismann violated rules of judicial conduct when he answered an issues questionnaire circulated by the Idaho Christian Coalition.

Eismann, a 4th District judge since 1995, will be on the May 23 election ballot for the Idaho Supreme Court seat held by Justice Cathy Silak.

Silak, who has served seven years on the high court, is seeking another six-year term.

Silak became instantly controversial after she wrote the majority opinion granting implied federal water rights to designated wilderness areas. The case was reheard in February, but the court has not yet issued a second decision.

Normally, the reelection of a sitting judge—particular one on the high state court—is not controversial. But primarily because of the contentious water decision, Silak has been vigorously campaigning throughout the state in an effort to be reelected.

The survey for the Christian Coalition's "2000 Voter Guide" sought candidate views on such things as abortion and gun control, whether candidates view themselves as liberals or conservatives and if they believe God inspired the writing of the U.S. Constitution.

Eismann answered the questionnaire; Silak, citing ethical concerns, did not.

In his complaint, Reed referred to an August 1998 letter written by Judicial Council executive director Robert Hamlin to then-Supreme Court candidate Michael Wetherell, who asked about the propriety of responding to similar questionnaires during that campaign.

"It is not appropriate for a judicial candidate to respond to such questions or surveys," Hamlin wrote. "However, a candidate may respond to general questions concerning the candidate's background, education, qualifications, experience and general philosophy on the law."

Eismann, who has secured the backing of a number of arch-conservatives, including retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, defended his


"I don't know of anything that says a judge can't express his religious beliefs,'' Eismann said during a swing through Coeur d'Alene this week.

He called the complaint a "political attack."

But Reed countered that the issue was not partisanship.

"It's about the questionnaire," he said.

Eismann said he did not answer all of the coalition’s questions, emphasizing that in his view some merely sought to determine if the candidate would be fair and impartial.

And he countered Reed's attack by attacking Silak for a lecture she gave earlier in the week in Coeur d'Alene on the school district lawsuit for the state to begin financing local school buildings. The case has been in court for the better part of the past decade.

Eismann was handling it until the Supreme Court reversed his attempt to dismiss it in favor of the state. He immediately recused himself, blasting the high court for what he said was rewriting the Constitution.

He called into question Silak's discussion on the suit, suggesting it improper.

But according to published reports of Silak's comments, she discussed only the history of the case and made no substantive comments on pending legal questions.

Earlier this year, former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley, who unsuccessfully ran for governor as a Democrat in 1998, lodged a complaint that Eismann violated the constitutional prohibition against partisan endorsement or nomination of Supreme Court justices when he spoke at a major Republican fund-raiser in February to kick off his campaign.

The attorney general's office said individuals at the event may have endorsed Eismann and Eismann himself may have spoken favorably about his candidacy, but that did not constitute a formal party endorsement.


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