Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

Judges' race spans summer


July 19, 2018

John Hart

John Hart

At each stop, each parade, they are present, in even numbers for each.

Driving, you see a sign for one candidate and see the other two's signs within two minutes. The race for the next Whitman County District Court Judge is on – and has been all summer – as the vote nears the first cut to replace Judge Doug Robinson, retiring after 18 years in the non-partisan position.

Candidates Dan LeBeau, Rob Rembert, John Hart; are all running their first political campaigns.

The primary is August 7.

The court system in Whitman County has three levels: Municipal Courts, which handles traffic and city matters; District Court, which is for criminal misdemeanors, small claims and some civil disputes; and Superior Court, which is for felonies and above.

Rob Rembert

Rob Rembert dropped out of high school to go to college. It was Bellevue, Wash. at the end of the '80s.

"Bellevue was not Bellevue then." Rembert said. "It wasn't as upscale."

Rembert, who spent all but one class period – English – at Bellevue Community College, his second semester of senior year at Sammamish High School (Bellevue) considered what he wanted to do for a career. Interested in law, he first looked into engineering then switched to chiropractic, spending a semester at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Sunnyvale, Calif.

"I realized I really wasn't dedicated to the profession," said Rembert.

He returned to Seattle, then back to Bellevue C.C. as he applied to get into Western Washington U.

At Western, he met his wife, who lived in the same dorm, two floors below. Both were involved with another, but later they got together and will be married 25 years in December. Their two daughters are in college (Boise State, WSU) and their son will be an eighth-grader at Lincoln Middle School. This February, they added another child to the family, Breckyn, 6, who was adopted as an 18-month old from Ethiopia by Mrs. Rembert's college roommate, who died of MS earlier this year.

"She's lost a mom and we've lost a friend, so it's a difficult time for her and us," said Rembert.

Gearing up for the judge's campaign, Rembert called Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson to sit down for coffee to ask his advice.

"I have this old-fashioned notion that lawyers should give back to their community," said Rembert, 47. "Frankly, (Johnson) is somewhat of an idol of mine, he's given so much to this community. Initially it was just to pick his brain, and he volunteered to be on the campaign committee."

Rembert got his law degree in 1996 from University of Puget Sound, which later merged its law school into Seattle University. The UPS Law building was in downtown Tacoma, in a former J.C. Penney's with an escalator going up five floors, including past the library.

"I thought I'd never get used to the sound," Rembert said. "When I got out and came to Pullman for my first job (at Irwin, Myklebust, Savage & Brown), I sat down and thought, God, it's quiet in here."

He is now a partner in the firm.

Seattle U. has since built a new law building.

"I told my parents, the only thing the two buildings have in common is they both had books," Rembert said.

Growing up in Bellevue with an older sister, their father worked as an electrical engineer and their mother a teacher.

Rob played baseball and basketball, but soon hung up the latter.

"In eighth grade, I was 5'10" (and playing under the basket). I was still 5'10" when I graduated from high school," Rembert said.

He did not play baseball his senior year because he was going to college – not technically enrolled in high school that second semester.

As for the campaign, he reflected on the effort these past months.

"I'm looking forward to the primary. I'm very optimistic," Rembert said. "A very intense, time-consuming experience. A very enriching one too."

Hanging in his office is an 1889 marriage certificate for George and Sarah Turnbow, Rembert's great-great grandparents. The land they homesteaded near Palouse, subsequently named Turnbow Flats, is still in the family. It is farmed by Ben and Janet Barstow.

With the campaign now in the home stretch, the primary ballots go in the mail July 20.

A League of Women Voters forum was Wednesday in Pullman.

So who is Rembert's favorite T.V. lawyer of all-time, fictional or real?

"I quite honestly don't watch a lot of lawyer drama," he said. "Instead of enjoying it, I have a tendency to pick it apart."

Rembert made a point to say what he thinks distinguishes him is his 22 years of experience, and that he's done civil law, such as landlord/tenant cases. He also works as a District Court pro-tem judge for Robinson.

"As a pro-tem, it's amazing how diverse these cases are," said Rembert. "I draw from all areas of my experience."

The primary is two weeks from next Tuesday.

"This has been a marathon, and I don't expect it to change," Rembert said. "It's not gonna slow down, I can tell you that."

John Hart

John Hart, the son of a college psychology professor and a teacher, grew up in Nebraska, graduating from high school in Omaha, then going to college and law school at University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

He came to Pullman with his now ex-wife in 2003 – when she was hired as the head WSU tennis coach.

"When I lived in Nebraska they won three (football) national championships. Since I left, they haven't won since," Hart said, with a smile. "Is it because Tom Osborne retired or I moved. We'll never know."

Hart got his undergraduate degree in 1996, a double major in sociology and philosophy, an admirer of Rene Descartes in particular.

"He was a dualist, he believed in two separate planes of existence," Hart said.

Through college, he worked in a food distribution warehouse and went full-time with the company for a year after graduation, considering it as a career option, before law school.

His first law job was as an intern for the prosecutor's office in Lincoln.

"I liked it. I always felt I had a good barometer for justice. A good prosecutor not just punishes a person but helps them," he said.

Hart is now a solo practitioner while also acting as Colfax Municipal Court judge.

In high school, he played hockey and rode mountain bikes.

What is that world like out there?

"It's windy. It's flat and windy," Hart said. "I never bought a road bike until I moved out here."

When he was appointed Municipal Court Judge in 2012, he felt he found his spot.

"All the sudden it clicked. As soon as I took on that position, I felt I found what I was intended to do," Hart said. "It was a little bit of a surprise. But I've always held judges in such high regard. Justice is about people, not about power."

After he and his first wife married, they spent three years in Blacksburg, Va., where she coached at Virginia Tech. Hart, 43, is divorced and remarried, with three children.

In early college, he was a secondary education major, thinking he'd like to be a social studies teacher, eventually getting a PhD.

But law school?

"It was a shorter route to be in a position to help people," said Hart.

Retiring Judge Robinson has given him his endorsement.

"I went into this and remain faithful to my original message, which is experience and substance," said Hart. "Only one of us has the true experience as a judge in a courtroom handling the same cases (which, for Municipal Court, occur in city limits of Colfax and Pullman). My nutshell is proven experience; when in doubt, who's the guy that's done the job so well for 18 years, who's he supporting?"

Hart also serves as a judge pro-tem for the District Court.

As the primary campaign to succeed Robinson now enters the home stretch, Hart has enjoyed the process.

"I'm loving it; it's an amazing experience," he said. "Learning a lot, meeting people, its exhausting in a good kind of way."

So who is Hart's favorite T.V. lawyer, non-fiction or otherwise?

"Ooh... I'm gonna go with Perry Mason," said Hart, who saw him as a kid on re-runs in syndication. "He seemed always a couple steps ahead of everybody else."

Dan LeBeau

They ran out of freeze pops before Albion.

On the Fourth of July, the Dan LeBeau campaign handed out the icy fruit sticks on the parade route in Johnson and ran out before the next parade two hours later in Albion.

It was the seventh on the parade circuit this spring and summer and supplies were replenished by the hot morning of July 14, the day of the Oakesdale Old Mill Days parade.

Dan Lebeau, Whitman County's chief deputy prosecutor, has worked for the local prosecutor's office for 13 years. He also serves as the judge for the Colton Municipal Court.

He grew up in Appleton, Wis., and graduated from University of Idaho Law School.

The time between the two experiences he credits as also part of his education.

After getting his undergraduate degree in Political Science in 1994 from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, Lebeau worked at the front desk at the Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wis.

He then was a waiter at the Bistro, the hotel's restaurant, and later become manager for two years.

"When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to get some life experience and travel a little bit," Lebeau said.

He worked through school – in the quality control laboratory at the paper mill finishing plant where his father worked – and had no debt at graduation. He later bought a used Toyota pickup with no air conditioning. With a budget of $27 a day, he drove around the U.S. west coast with a friend, then went to Anchorage, Alaska, to work as a waiter on a Princess Tours train from Seward to Fairbanks, a 15-hour trip one-way.

"That was the time of my life where I winged it a lot," said Lebeau, 46.

Deciding to apply to law school – something he had long planned – he returned to Madison and saved money. First, he spent a summer with the Winant Clayton Volunteers, an organization working with Bangladeshi kids in inner-city London.

"Living in a place and working there helps you to understand it in a totally different way," Lebeau said. "It influenced the way I've traveled ever since. When I retire, I'd like to go volunteer and work around the world."

After London and back in the U.S. looking at law schools, he was interested in returning to the northwest, which he had seen on his trip around the country. He added U. of I. to his list to check out.

"I always say it's the most relaxed law school," Lebeau said. "We worked hard, but it was friendly, collaborative. The tension, the competitiveness was not there. Everywhere else I visited was more rigid. The students giving the tours were not upbeat."

He started law school at age 31, with the long-held idea to be a "trenches lawyer," as he described. "I've always wanted to be the person on the ground working the law," Lebeau said.

What was his reason or inspiration to travel around first?

"In some part, the end of Cheers (fifth season)," he said. "Sam sold the bar to sail the world. My goal was to see things and then come back. This area ended up kind of grabbing me."

After his first year of law school, LeBeau went with a professor to Cambodia to work for the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project.

Before his third year, he started as an intern for Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy.

Lebeau, a middle child, grew up playing trumpet in concert band/jazz band, acting in theater and playing lineman on the Appleton High School football team.

What was his favorite class in school?

"When I had a good teacher, I liked the subject," he said. "I always liked learning things and trying to understand people. I had a great aunt who would take me for walks at (age) five, for the conversation."

Last year, after Judge Robinson announced his retirement, LeBeau thought further about what had been in the back of his mind.

"Do I decide I want to be a judge, or do I want to run for office? Because they are not the same thing," he said. "I've been a very private person. This becomes a more public life, which I think the public has an absolute right to. You decide, do you want to spend a season exposing yourself?"

After conferring with others, including his fiance, ex-wife and kids, he decided to go ahead.

Rob Rembert

Rob Rembert

"If anything, that tells you how much I believe in the job," Lebeau said. "I don't have the ego for it ... I see my name on the signs and don't think that's my name."

So what is his favorite T.V. lawyer of all-time, fiction or non-fiction?

LeBeau thought about it and first mentioned Robert Jackson, the prosecutor for the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.

That would not quite count, since LeBeau learned about Jackson through reading.

"I've watched a lot of law shows, but I won't say I admire anyone a lot. You're getting a caricature," he said. "Could it be a movie? Tom Cruise in a 'A Few Good Men'; the growth. When he actually digs in and works for it... It's the fact that it's searching for the truth. Win, lose or draw, that is what you're going for."

Dan LeBeauJohn HartRob Rembert


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