Former Republican congressman Rick White, one of three candidates the Republicans have submitted to replace John McKay as U.S. attorney for Western Washington...

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Former Republican congressman Rick White, one of three candidates the Republicans have submitted to replace John McKay as U.S. attorney for Western Washington, cannot practice law in the state.

White’s license was suspended by the state Supreme Court in August 2003 for failure to pay his bar dues. He was reinstated to the bar in 2005 after paying a small fee, but currently holds an “inactive” status.

White said late Friday that he was working toward reactivating his status as an attorney in the state of Washington. He said he needs to complete about “20 to 30 hours” of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) before he can reclaim his license.

“I understand I’m in a bad position,” he said.

White said he let his license lapse because he wasn’t practicing law. With the nomination as a candidate for U.S. attorney, White said, he plans to resume practicing.

To appear as a lawyer in federal court — which U.S. attorneys regularly do — White has to be a licensed lawyer in a state, have a local lawyer sponsor him, submit an application and be approved by a federal judge, said Janet Bubnis, the chief deputy clerk in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington.

If appointed, White said, he intends to complete most of his CLE requirements at the U.S. Attorney’s National Advocacy Center in South Carolina.

Washington State Bar spokeswoman Judy Berrett said White cannot practice law in Washington until he pays his full bar dues, about $390, and demonstrates that he is current on CLE classes.

The bar requires that every attorney complete a minimum of 45 hours of CLE classes every three years. Berrett declined to say whether White was current on his CLEs or whether he had contacted the bar and asked to be reinstated to “active” status.

Berrett said it is “very common” for lawyers to “switch back and forth between active and inactive status.”

Firings raise concerns

McKay is one of eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department late last year for “performance-related issues.” Accusations that the firings were politically motivated have resulted in congressional hearings.

Luke Esser, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, pointed out that White had worked as an attorney at Perkins Coie before he was elected to Congress.

In 2001, White left Perkins Coie and became chief executive officer and president of TechNet, a lobbying organization based in Silicon Valley that sought to educate lawmakers about high-tech issues. He spent about four years there.

“I can understand why there would be some questions here,” Esser said. “But I’m sure what’s happened is that Rick just didn’t think about it, because he’s confident in his abilities as an attorney.”

Berrett, of the state bar, said White’s suspension is “nondisciplinary” and that he has never been publicly disciplined by the bar since he was admitted in 1983.

Task given to Reichert

Typically, the state’s senior federal legislator from the president’s party gets to forward U.S. attorney candidates to the White House for approval. Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco is the state’s longest-serving Republican member, but he handed the task to Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

Reichert picked King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng to lead a panel and submit candidates. The other candidates are Interim U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan and Seattle lawyer Michael Vaska. Both Sullivan and Vaska are listed as “active” members of the state bar.

Maleng’s spokesman, Dan Donohoe, said the prosecutor had no comment on White’s status. A Reichert spokeswoman said his office also had no comment

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or