Two bright, articulate men are on the ballot for a judge's seat on the Jackson County Circuit Court. By virtually all accounts, the incumbent, Ben Bloom, has done an admirable job since being appointed to the position in 2010, and we think he should remain on the bench.
Bloom, a private practice attorney for 17 years with a Medford law firm, was appointed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Mark Schiveley. While he is still relatively new to the bench and to criminal law, he has received accolades — and campaign support — from a wide variety of people inside and outside of the judicial system. He was the overwhelming favorite in an Oregon State Bar poll of Jackson County lawyers, in which he received 93 of the 108 votes cast.
His opponent, David Orr, is fighting a rather quixotic battle in his campaign, arguing that the usual process of appointing judges before they stand for election is undemocratic, and that judges should not accept campaign contributions from lawyers or anyone who is reasonably likely to appear before them.
Orr makes good points. We have previously criticized the wink-and-nod system in which judges retire before their final term is up, allowing the governor to appoint their successor. That successor then runs for the position as an incumbent and invariably wins. In fact, no one can recall a seated judge being defeated in Jackson County in recent times.
That leads to Orr's next point: Because the incumbent is likely to win, he or she draws the vast majority of campaign donations. Many of those donations come from lawyers, who are likely to appear before the judge they are supporting. The potential for ethical dilemmas are endless.
We believe Bloom is an ethical man (and Orr is not suggesting otherwise) so we don't see a danger in this particular case.
Beyond that, the issues are something for the Legislature or the State Bar to take up. Bloom did not create the system that exists and is not straying beyond the bounds of the rules that everyone plays by.
Bloom impresses us with his repeated assertions that he understands how important every court case is to the person appearing before him and how he is determined to ensure that everyone is given a full opportunity to be heard. We think he should continue to be the judge who is hearing them.
Electing judges to the Oregon Supreme Court is a process that usually asks voters to choose between two qualified candidates with little knowledge of how they would rule. That's as it should be, of course. Judges must decide cases based on the law, not on public opinion. But it doesn't make it easy for voters.
This year, the single contested race for the state's highest court pits Nena Cook, a respected private-practice attorney and former Oregon State Bar president, against Richard Baldwin, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge with a lengthy background of providing legal assistance to low-income Oregonians. Cook argues that her 21 years of private law practice would provide a perspective missing from the high court.
We're not convinced that's enough to give her the nod. Baldwin was the overwhelming winner of the bar poll of his fellow attorneys and has the support of two former governors. His background in legal aid and work to establish a mental health court and preside over drug treatment courts shows a commitment to serving all Oregonians from the bench. We recommend voters elect him to the Oregon Supreme Court.
We recommended Tim Volpert for the Oregon Court of Appeals in the May primary, and our view has not changed.
Volpert, a trial and appellate attorney with the Portland firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, is in a runoff against James Egan, who has been a Linn County Circuit Court judge for two years.
Volpert is a recognized expert in constitutional law, arguing many cases at the appellate level, and would be an asset on the Oregon Appeals Court, one of the busiest in the nation. We recommend voters elect him.