Michelle “Shelley” Szambelan, Incumbent & Candidate for Spokane Superior Court, Dept. 10


Michelle “Shelley” Szambelan

Email: Friendsofjudgeszambelan@gmail.com


$1.55 M verdict in first jury trial, one of the largest instantaneous wrongful death verdicts in Washington.  Strong research and writing skills.  Hard-working and dedicated.  Highlight – writing a brief for the U.S. Supreme Court and editing Black’s Law Dictionary.


Mar.,18-present          Judge, Spokane Superior Court, Dep’t. 10Selected to preside over felony and civil matters in court of general jurisdiction.

Jan., 09- Mar., 18       Judge Spokane Municipal Court.  Elected unopposed to three consecutive terms after appointment & confirmation in 2008 to Washington’s second largest municipal court.  In addition to managing 1/3 of criminal docket, responsible for supervising over 50 Clerk’s and Probation office employees, as well as a combined budget of nearly $5 Million.  Presided in over 25 trials, all but three were jury trials.  AR 6 elected pro tem judge for Spokane County Superior Court.

June, 99 – Dec., 08     Assistant City Attorney:  City of Spokane, Spokane, WA

Researched, drafted and argued criminal appeals, including appeals as of right, Anders, writs, and motions for discretionary review, at all levels of state courts for the City of Spokane’s criminal division.  Responded to dispositive motions filed in courtrooms for trial prosecutors.

Prepared legal memoranda on appellate/legal issues for the City Attorney, Mayor and City Council.  Civil projects, including drafting legal structure for City’s judicial branch.

Aug., 05-May, 06        Acting City Prosecutor, City of Spokane.  Asked to manage prosecution in Washington’s second largest municipality.  Supervised staff of attorneys, support staff, and legal interns while continuing to oversee appellate unit.  Responsible for $1.2M budget.  Represented prosecutor’s office in meetings with courts, City management, and community.  Instructor at police in-service training.  Worked to secure grant funding for additional resources.

1993-June, 1999          Associate Attorney:  Phillabaum, Ledlin, Matthews & Gaffney-Brown, Spokane, WA

Litigated bench and jury trials.  Drafted complex appellate briefs in State and Federal courts.  Represented clients at all phases of litigation in State and Federal courts, administrative hearings, arbitrations and mediations.  Civil practice emphasis:  Insurance defense, tort and wrongful death, aviation, employment law, as well as a variety of other areas.

1996-June, 1999          Judge Pro Tempore, Spokane County District and Municipal Courts

Presided over civil dockets, contested accident and small claims trials.

1992 Clerk Class         Judicial Clerk to The Hon. Philip Toci, Div. I of Arizona Court of Appeals

Prepared and orally presented bench memoranda with disposition recommendations to panel of appellate judges on weekly basis.   Researched and analyzed Special Action petitions, civil, criminal, tax and juvenile appeals.  Reviewed criminal cases for fundamental error under Anders.  Screened civil cases to determine appellate jurisdiction.



Juris Doctorate, Gonzaga University School of Law: Spokane, WA

Editor, Gonzaga Law Review

Moot Court Council, Vice-President

Phi Delta Phi (Honors Law Fraternity)

American Jurisprudence Awards:

  • Products Liability
  • Legal Research & Writing II


Bachelor of Science, cum laude, Gonzaga University [Political Science]

Alpha Sigma Nu (Jesuit Honor Society)



Member in Good Standing,       Supreme Court State of Arizona (1991)

Member in Good Standing,       Supreme Court State of Washington (1992)

Admitted to Practice:                  United States Supreme Court (1995)

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (1994)

United States Court of Federal Claims (1997)

United States District Court, Eastern Dist. Washington (1993)

PUBLICATIONS:  Panel of Contributors, Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed.)(2009); Edited 2013 DUI Bench-book, writing 4 chapters; WSBA, Bar News, “Smitty Myers: A Spokane Icon” (April, 2009); WSBA, Bar News, “Writing Tips for More Effective Briefing and Motion Practice” (Nov., 2008) (permission granted to the WA Attorney General’s Office to use in training); “Prosecutors’ Toolbox:  Practical Tips for Responding to Pretrial Motions,”  Whistler, BC (April, 2008); “Criminal Law Update,” Presentation of Written Materials at Washington State Ass’n of Municipal Attorney Fall Conference (2000), Spring (2003), Fall (2006); “Prosecuting Through the Written Word” (Spring 2007);  “Discovery:  How It All Fits Together As Evidence At Trial,” Ch. 4 in WSBA Evidence CLE (7/11/97); “Privacy Issues in an Electronic Age”; Ch. 3 Lorman Business Seminar 11/10/96); “Practical Legal Research & Analysis for Washington Paralegals,” co-chair, Spokane Site and authored 2 chapters.  Regular presenter on employment law issues for Council on Education in Management Seminars (1997-1999).


REPORTED OPINIONS:  Ermine v. City of Spokane, 143 Wn.2d 636, cert. denied, 534 U.S. 994(2001)(attorney’s fee award in § 1983 nominal damages case);   City of Spokane v. Rothwell, 141 Wn. App. 680 (2007), recon. denied (2008), rev’d 166 Wn.2d 872 (2009); City of Spokane v. Wilcox, 143 Wn. App. 568 (2008); City of Spokane v. Landgren. 127 Wn. App. 1001 (2005); City of Spokane v. Whitehead, 128 Wn. App. 145 (2005); City of Spokane v. Marr, 129 Wn. App. 890 (2005); City of Spokane v. Beck, 130 Wn. App. 481 (2005); City of Spokane v. Ward, 122 Wn. App. 40 (2004); City of Spokane v. Neff, 152 Wn.2d 85 (2004); City of Spokane v. Marquette, 146 Wn.2d 124 (2002)(obtained review and rev’d appellate court ruling involving tolling probation jurisdiction while in warrant status); Commanda v.Cary, 143 Wn.2d 651(2001)(obtained direct discretionary review and rev’d lower court’s granting of writ); Mabe v. White, 105 Wn. App. 827 (2001)(constitutionality of court rule); City of Spokane v. Hays, 99 Wn. App. 653 (2000)(aff’d passenger’s conviction for obstructing);  City of Spokane v. Hamlett, 98 Wn. App. 841  (2000)(rev’d dismissal involving right to counsel & self-representation); Lytle v. Dep’t of Licensing, 94 Wn. App. 357 (1999)(rev’d dismissal of license revocation for due process).

FOREIGN EXCHANGE STUDENT: Nantes, France (High School)

INTERESTS:  Languages; volunteer work; travel; sports; and cooking.

PERSONAL:  Married 25+ years, three children.


  • Washington State Judicial College
    • Dean-Emeritus, 2016
    • Dean, 2015
    • Assistant Dean, 2014
    • Trustee, (2014-15)
    • Faculty, 2013 to present [Contempt (2015); Sentencing & Probation (2013-17); DUI (2017-20)]
  • Washington State Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee [7-member, statewide panel]
    • Re-appointed by Chief Justice Madsen to additional 3-yr. term (2015 to 2018)
  • District & Municipal Court Judges Association
    • Judicial Education Taskforce (2015-18)
    • Legislative Committee & Executive Committee (2010-18)
    • Rules Committee (2009-18)
    • Co-chair, Spring Conference Planning Committee (2009-10)
  • Washington State Bar
    • Appointed Editorial Advisory Board (2006-08), co-chair (2007-08)
  • Spokane County Bar Association
    • Keynote speaker at 2015 Annual Meeting
    • M.C. for 2015 Annual Professionalism Dinner
    • Elected SCBA Trustee (2006-08)
    • SCBA Volunteer Lawyer Program Board of Directors (2006-08)
    • CLE & Liaison Committee for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction
    • Young Lawyers Division Trustee (1993-94) & Officer (1994-95)
  • Washington Women Lawyers
    • Spokane Chapter Member of the Year (1997)
    • Past-President, Spokane Chapter (1996)
    • Officer (1993-96)
    • Member since 1992

 Other Legal Organizations 

    • Spokane Regional Law & Justice Council (October, 2015-present)
      • Strategic Planning Workgroup (2014-present)
    • MacArthur Foundation Safety & Justice Challenge Grant Site Team (2015-present)
      • Member of core, 8-person team actively involved in various workgroups & subcommittee meetings in support of application for Phase II grant funding.
  • Street Law (2014-present): Team-teacher for local high school government class, selected for grant funding from U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington & Washington State Judges Foundation
    • American Inns of Court, Charles L. Powell Inn (1992-2000)
  • Community Involvement
    • Gonzaga Preparatory High School, Board of Directors (2012-present)
      • Executive Comm. (2016-present)
    • Cataldo Catholic School
      • Parent Advisory Council (2005-09, Chair, 2009)
      • Board of Directors (Inaugural Chair, 2010-11)
    • Habitat for Humanity – helped build multiple houses in Spokane community.
    • Presenter for many CLEs for legal organizations on a variety of topics, including “DUI: FYI” at 2016 AOC statewide Fall Conference; “Judicial Ethics – A view from the Bench,” Washington State Ass’n for Justice, June 2014; & Legal Education & Networking Group speaker (2015).
    • WA Minority & Justice Commission’s Youth & Justice Forum, volunteer (2015-present)

Spokane County Democrats 2018 Judicial Candidate Questionnaire

Candidate Name Michelle “Shelley” Szambelan
Position sought Spokane Superior Court, Dep’t 10
Residence LD District 6
Are you the incumbent? Yes
Former Campaign Information
Campaign Name Committee to Retain Judge Shelley Szambelan
Web page www.friendsofjudgeszambelan.com
Campaign Email address friendsofjudgeszambelan@gmail.com
Manager Nancy Isserlis, Chair; Shelley McDowell, Treasurer
Campaign mailing address P.O. 894 Spokane, WA 99210
Campaign phone number (509) 954.7144
Campaign FAX N/A

Candidate Background: Community service, education, employment and other relevant experience.
Which undergraduate and law schools have you attended? Include Graduation date, degrees.
Gonzaga University, BS 1988
Gonzaga University School of Law, JD 1991
Please see attached CV for more detailed community service, education and relevant experience

What is your rating from the Washington State Bar Association or County Bar Association for the position you are running?
Highest SCBA rating each time: “Exceptionally Qualified”; WWL, highest rating: “Exceptionally Well Qualified.

Hours and types of pro bono work performed.
While my current position limits practice of law, including pro bono work, I have been an active supporter and advocate of legal aid program as permitted by the Code of Judicial Conduct. In addition, I regularly volunteer to support and mentor youth, including at-risk youth, and law students.

Have you ever been a prosecutor for any government entity? If yes, where and how long?
Yes. City of Spokane. I was the appellate prosecutor from June, 1999 to Aug., 2008. In addition to supervising appeals, I was the Acting City Prosecutor from Aug. 2005 to May, 2006 returned exclusively to appeals after the former Acting City Attorney returned to being the City Prosecutor.
Have you ever defended a person accused of a crime? If yes, where and how many cases?
When I was in private practice at fka, Phillabaum, Ledlin & Matthews (nka, Phillabaum, Ledlin, Matthews & Sheldon, PLLC), I assisted Steve Matthews on a handful of criminal cases (less than 5). The firm did not generally do criminal defense. My first reported opinion involved a criminal case, though. Lytle v. Dep’t of Licensing, 94 Wn. App. 357 (1999)(rev’d DOL suspension of driver’s license from DUI based on due process violation when arresting officer wasn’t available for cross-examination).

Have you ever served as an arbitrator or Mediator? If yes, where and how many times?

How many times have you participated as a judge or attorney in:
Municipal Court 9+ years as trial judge on 1/3 of all criminal filings in City of Spokane (approximately 10-12k annually), presided over approx. 30 trials. As an attorney more than a hundred of dispositive motions, writs and appeals.
District Court 1 trial as attorney, pro tem’d on civil docket periodically for approximately 3 yrs. while in civil practice & prior to joining prosecutor’s office.
Superior Court jury trials 2 jury trials as attorney; second-chaired several more. As a pro tem Superior Court judge, I heard testimony & ruled on a suppression motion, presided of adoptions and many felony guilty pleas. Since Gov. Inslee appointed me, I’ve presided over two felony trials, approximately 20 Unlawful Detainer Actions – including contested ones, more than 50 felony pleas, several criminal motions, an adoption, and a restitution motion in the three weeks I’ve been on the bench.
Arguments in Court of Appeals 15 reported opinions, probably twice that number unreported or resolved upon successful defense of Motion for Discretionary Review.
Arguments in State Supreme Court Approximately 5
Federal District Court trials 2

Which organizations and individuals have endorsed you in this race?
A list of those who have supported me in the past are on my former website. Re-elected unopposed to my former position three times. I continue to enjoy with broad and varied community support from both sides of the aisle that includes civic leaders, business owners, Labor, law enforcement, judges and government leaders, lawyers from both civil and criminal practices – notably including both prosecution & criminal defense, as well civil plaintiff lawyers and civil defense attorneys. While I appreciate their support, I count as equally valuable support from former Local 270 employees I supervised and every-day citizens. I can bring an updated list with me to the meeting on April 16th.

Have there ever been any successful claims made against you or your malpractice carrier? If “yes” please attach explanation.
No claims.

List any complaints you have received through any Bar Association, Judicial Conduct Committee or Board, or private insurance carrier. (Attach on a separate sheet of paper.)

What is your strongest area of legal expertise?
While I have focused primarily on the criminal docket for the last several years & am very strong in that area (I teach at the statewide Judicial College, as well as edited & drafted 4 chapters of the state benchbook on DUIs.), I have extensive civil practice experience on a wide variety of topics. Legal research and writing are my strengths, which help me analyze new areas of law. My experience in appellate practice honed my focus on protecting the record, and emphasizing the legal standard that’s applied to a case regardless of its subject matter.

What recommendations do you have for increasing access to the judicial system (Civil and Criminal)?
I believe passionately that justice cannot be a commodity that only the wealthy can buy. It is the primary reason that I have been a stalwart supporter of the Volunteer Lawyer Program, including serving on their Board. I have consistently and actively supported youth mentoring in the justice system, and diversity for our future. Many years ago in the early 1990s, I wrote the first ABA GAAP program grant, which later became the Modest Means project. In addition, I consistently personally support the Equal Access to Justice Initiative. Prior to being limited on fundraising activities by the Code of Justice Conduct, I regularly volunteered to call attorneys to seek their support. I firmly believe in the motto of the Equal Justice Coalition: “It’s not justice if it’s not equal.”
Also, while I certainly cannot take all the credit, when I was at Spokane Municipal Court for over nine years, we focused heavily on criminal justice reform efforts designed to improve access and actually provide a forum for individuals to experience substantive and procedural justice. I have been an active participant on the Spokane Regional Law & Justice Council’s Strategic Planning Workgroup & the MacArthur Grant Site Team seeking reform that provides better justice in our region. I supported Judge Logan and Municipal Court’s community court, which is a great example of thinking differently. Rather than continue the revolving door of jail for those mired in generational-poverty and afflicted by substance abuse, it makes far more sense to identify criminogenic needs and respond by also addressing them with evidence-based practices while ensuring public safety. In the Downtown Library, our court’s probation department conducts a needs-analysis and pairs providers to address those needs for low-risk offenders in the downtown core. Community reparations and monitored law-abiding behavior are used instead of simply incarcerating somebody. By addressing the underlying problems, such as homelessness and substance abuse, it benefits the person, as well as our community. While this has only been regionally considered and embraced for a few years, it has always been a key tenet in why I do what I do, whether as a prosecutor or a judge: Justice needs to be real.

As noted in a 1.15.13 Inlander article, “Spokane Municipal Judge Michelle Szambelan says the ability to pay should be a factor in how people are punished, “Part of being a judge is listening and issuing a just decision based on the facts,” she says. “I don’t know how you could do that without listening to people.” “

How have you promoted diversity within your staff?
Probably the best example is Shawn Murinko’s letter of support to the Governor, which I copied below. While our court rarely has had hiring decisions & have been fortunate to have staff stability, it is important to me that the process actually is fair in addition to seeming fair. Personally, a good example is the animation depicting three people standing behind a baseball fence. One is tall enough to see over it on his own; the other two shorter ones have boxes of varying sizes to make sure that they can see overt the fence, too. This concept drives what I do: Equity is different than equality. This can be a hard topic for some people. But I believe that collaborative and constructive discussions are the only way that effective progress can be made. In short, I walk the walk and don’t just talk about it. People like Francis Adewale, Dorothy Webster and Gloria Ochoa-Bruck would not be supporting me if this were not the case.

What are the main messages of your campaign? What is your campaign plan? How many doors have you knocked on to date, pieces of mail planned, budgeting, staffing? What is the fundraising goal for your campaign? How much have you raised to date? Why will you win?
The main messages of my campaign for this position can summarized with: “Experience & Just Results.” I will be the only candidate who is and has been a judge; I have over ten years of combined judicial experience. My legal and judicial experience are why Governor Inslee selected me to fill the position. Prior to him doing so, the Superior Court judges repeatedly selected me to do their work as one of three AR 6 pro tem judges. The voters have supported me in three elections. I am already doing the job and experienced enough that I immediately was assigned a 3-day strangulation trial within an hour of being sworn in.

I intend leverage my broad support within the community and extensive experience. In addition to having the respect of key business leaders and wide support from the bench and bar, I never underestimate the power of the so-called Average Person. They’re the people who respect me because of how I treat others and my integrity. Those supporters run the spectrum: From the Local 270 clerks who appreciate how hard I worked to get their unique and harder job requirements reclassified to better compensate them; fellow parents and volunteers in my community work, who know my work ethic and that they can count on me to continue doing a good job; they’re the janitors and security guards at the courthouse who know that I treat them with respect and they appreciate that I work as hard as they do: They see that my car is the first in the lot and the last to leave.

I am vigorously defending my position. I am working with a group of highly experienced campaign folks who win. The first of many waves of yard signs are already placed, and will continue popping up. Larger signs are ordered and prime locations have been secured. We’re in the process of reserving & selecting billboard locations. We are analyzing election data to make sure that our efforts are focused in the most productive areas. There’s also the opportunity to get to know our community better by an age-old tradition of knocking on doors and talking to people. I intend to do what it takes to win.

I have worked very hard to do a good job on the bench, and am well respected by my colleagues and more importantly the people who appear in front of me. Several years back, I received one of the meaningful comments in my career: A defense attorney later relayed that his client didn’t get what he wanted, but was satisfied because he felt like he was heard and that I treated him fairly.