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Editorial: Bad news, good news in circuit court

CIRCUIT COURT Judge Paul Crowley.	Chronicle file photo

CIRCUIT COURT Judge Paul Crowley. Chronicle file photo

The bad news that Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley plans to retire from the bench on July 1 was compounded this week when the filing deadline for candidacy on the May 20 primary election passed and no one had filed for his seat.

The good news is that Crowley has no immediate plans to retire entirely from public life. He plans to work for the next five years as a senior judge, helping with conflict cases and judicial shortfals around the state, and to work as an unpaid mediator to resolve public interest disputes in the Columbia Gorge.

He helped establish mediation and alternative dispute resolution measures in the courts.

“If there’s a conflict, there’s almost always a solution,” he said in his retirement announcement. “Creating quicker, less expensive and more satisfying means of resolving disputes has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.”

Crowley has been a stablizing force on the Seventh District circuit, particularly during the past few years of transition. He has used his mediation skills, not only to resolve conflicts within the local criminal justice system, but also resolve intergovernmental disputes including the rate formula for the four counties involved in the regional jail and juvenile detention center.

At the state level, he chaired a state-wide technology task force that facilitated the state court movement to the e-Court system, where court records and filings are maintained electronically.

We all have some idea of what judges do on the bench, at least before the public eye, but what happens behind the scenes is a little less transparent. As presiding judge, Crowley has been the administrator of the five-county circuit court district.

“We run a business,” Crowley said March 14. “We have five work centers, 24 employees, five landlords and our business is administrating justice. We have to keep things going, deal with employee issues, deal with the interests of our community partners and the people that we serve.”

The job has had a number of difficult budgetary challenges, he said, including budgetary cuts starting around 2008. In the past few years, the judges have made most of those decisions collegially.

“We have a good working relationship where we sit down together and make a decision,” he said, “and the decision isn’t always the one I favor. We’ve agreed to work together on the decisions that affect the district as a whole, except at the point where a decision needs to be made by one individual. That falls to the presiding judge.”

We hope that court will continue on with this collegial process. In the interim, Governor Kitzhaber will appoint a judge to the bench. His office sent out an announcement this week inviting attorneys from the district to file an interest form with his office.

We can think of at least a few local attorneys who have both the sagacity and gravitas such a position requires — and probably more are practicing in other counties within the district.

Whoever the governor chooses will have the opportunity to prove themselves for at least a few months before voters will have their turn to decide.

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