Popkey: Judge Winmill's record speaks for itself

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comFebruary 13, 2014 

Gov. Butch Otter says U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill is out of touch with Idaho values.

Otter called out Winmill during his Feb. 7 “Capitol for a Day” in Craigmont, according to the Lewiston Tribune.

Otter “urged people to understand their votes matter in coming elections because public officials are responsible for appointing judges like Winmill, who he said might not share Idaho’s values,” wrote the Tribune’s Dylan Brown.

“It’s usually one that doesn’t share all of the enthusiasm for the marketplace and freedom that we do in Idaho,” Otter said. As such gubernatorial criticism of an Idaho judge is rare, the Statesman asked for “elaboration on what the governor meant in Craigmont about Winmill not sharing Idaho values.”

Spokesman Jon Hanian’s reply was eight words of bilingual economy: “As they say in court: Res ipsa loquitor.”

That Latin phrase, important in legal tradition, translates as, “the thing speaks for itself.”

The same might be said about Winmill’s biography. The judge himself declined comment.


Winmill, 61, is a fourth-generation Idahoan whose grandparents homesteaded in Eastern Idaho. He was born and raised near Blackfoot, on a dairy and sugar beet farm.

He graduated from Idaho State University in 1974. He has won the Distinguished Alumni Award from ISU’s College of Arts and Sciences and was named Statesman of the Year by the political science honorary fraternity.

In 1977, Winmill graduated from Harvard Law School. He worked at a Denver firm for two years before returning to Pocatello to practice with Don Burnett, who is now interim president of the University of Idaho and dean of the U of I Law School. A former Bannock County Democratic chairman, Winmill chaired former Congressman Richard Stallings’ 1984 upset campaign against GOP Rep. George Hansen.

In 1987, Winmill was appointed a state district judge by Gov. Cecil Andrus. In 1993, Winmill sentenced James Edward Wood to death for one of most gruesome crimes in Idaho history, the kidnapping, rape, shooting and dismemberment of 11-year-old newspaper carrier Jeralee Underwood. Wood died of natural causes in prison in 1994.

While a district judge, Winmill twice was named by the Idaho Judicial Council as a finalist for appointment to the Idaho Supreme Court.


In 1995, President Bill Clinton nominated Winmill to the federal bench. He had the support of ­Idaho Republican Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne and GOP Gov. Phil Batt.

Earlier, Craig had blocked Clinton’s first nominee, John Tait of Lewiston, who had been recommended by then-Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco. Craig established a bipartisan commission to vet candidates, including a former U.S. attorney, members of the Judicial Council, and the GOP chairs of the Idaho House and Senate Judiciary committees.

Introducing Winmill at his July 1995 Senate confirmation hearing, Craig said the group unanimously called Winmill “well qualified.”

Of Winmill’s record, Craig said: “It is exemplary. It has brought him from undergraduate work at Idaho State University through graduate school at the Harvard Law School, to a recognition statewide in a bipartisan way that this man is most qualified to serve.”

Kempthorne noted that Winmill was rated as one Idaho’s five best state court judges and saluted him for “extraordinary hard work, his keen intellect, well-written legal opinions and superior judicial temperament that have marked his entire career.”

Noting the judgeship had been vacant 28 months, Kempthorne urged the Senate to act swiftly. “While Judge Winmill has been worth the wait, I hope that we won’t make Idaho wait any longer,” Kempthorne told the ­Judiciary Committee.

Winmill became chief judge in 1999.

Among his notable cases: Ordering the unwinding of St. Luke’s buyout of the Saltzer Medical Group under U.S. antitrust laws; siding with the Idaho GOP in closing its primary to independent voters; both upholding and limiting First Amendment rights of Occupy Boise protesters; delaying megaload transports over U.S. 12 and directing the U.S. Forest Service to assess environmental impacts; striking down unconstitutional anti-abortion laws; and ordering the federal government to review whether enough has been done to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list.

Winmill and his wife, Judy, married over 40 years, have four children, whom Winmill coached in soccer and basketball. He is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a former scoutmaster.

Winmill has never been convicted of any crime.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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