SANDPOINT - Governor Butch Otter appointed Barbara Buchanan on Tuesday to be 1st District judge in Bonner County.
It's the first time a woman has been appointed to the 1st District Court bench, according to Karlene Behringer, trial court administrator for the 1st Judicial District.
Although a formal announcement from the governor's office is pending, Buchanan received word Tuesday that she was tapped to succeed Judge Steve Verby, who transitions to senior status this month.
"It's a huge honor for me to be the first woman in the 1st Judicial District," said Buchanan, who has served as a magistrate court judge in Bonner County for the past 18 years. "I take it really seriously."
There are 42 district judges in Idaho and Buchanan's appointment brings the number of women who hold that office to nine, according to Idaho Supreme Court officials.
Nine candidates were initially in the running to fill the vacancy on the 1st District bench in Bonner County, although three had withdrawn themselves from consideration by the time the Idaho Judicial Council conducted public interviews last November.
The six remaining candidates included Buchanan, St. Maries attorney Richard Christensen, Sandpoint attorney Brent Featherston, Boundary County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tevis Hull, Coeur d'Alene attorney Linda Payne and Coeur d'Alene Magistrate Court Judge Scott Wayman.
Following the interviews in Sandpoint, the judicial council developed a short list of candidates for Otter to consider. Buchanan, Christensen, Featherston and Wayman made the short list.
"All the candidates were excellent," said Buchanan. "It was a really nice process."
Fellow magistrate court Judge Debra Heise said she will miss working alongside Buchanan, but is thrilled by her appointment and believes she'll do a great job.
"She has the qualities that make her one of our best judges - she's intelligent, fair-minded and hardworking. I introduced her to our Drug Court tonight as the judge who's best described as an iron fist in a velvet glove, but whose firmness is tempered with compassion," Heise said.
Buchanan, an Idaho native who grew up in Moscow, obtained her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Idaho. She then clerked for the Idaho Supreme Court for two years.
In 1986, Buchanan relocated from Boise to Sandpoint to take a job at a law firm. Verby, coincidentally, was the one who hired her.
"Steve gave me my first job in Sandpoint," Buchanan said.
Buchanan, 54, has been married to Rick Dalessio, principal at Lake Pend Oreille High School, for 36 years.
Although the stakes are higher in district court, where felony criminal cases and civil matters involving damages exceeding $10,000 are adjudicated, Buchanan said she's looking forward to the challenge.
Buchanan said magistrate courts often operate similar to an emergency room, where decisions have to be made at a fairly quick clip.
Buchanan said she welcomes "the luxury to spend more time on legal research and delve into some more complicated legal issues." She is also grateful for the support she has received from court staff over the years and their encouragement to seek higher office.
"I've so appreciated the support," she said.