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Charter, Idiart seek new court spot

Following the November election, the governor will appoint the justice-elect so he can start working earlier than January

Voters will decide who takes the bench on a new county court.

Medford attorneys Joe Charter and Damian Idiart are vying to be the first justice of the peace for the Southern Justice Court of Jackson County. Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office was poised to appoint one of the men, but favored putting the position to a vote, said Marian Hammond, spokeswoman for the governor.

It made sense for the community to make that determination, Hammond said.

Following the November election, the governor will appoint the justice-elect so he can start working earlier than January, the usual start time for elected officials, Hammond said. Both Charter and Idiart have filed their candidacy, said a spokeswoman for the county's elections division, and the deadline to file has passed. County commissioners have recommended Charter for the job.

The new Justice Court will process and adjudicate citations written by a team of sheriff's deputies dedicated to traffic enforcement. In addition, the court likely will pick up much of the caseload from the county's existing Justice Court in Gold Hill, county officials said. Sheriff Mike Winters stopped sending noncriminal cases there after Justice Robert King was cited in June for possession of marijuana.

— Winters' decision to move citations to the state Circuit Court has cost the county a portion of the revenue from traffic fines. County officials had no information Wednesday on the amount of money lost over the past three months, but County Administrator Sue Slack said she has asked for an analysis to present to county commissioners.

The county is paying for a lease on the new court space, located in a Central Point office building owned by Dennis Richardson at 55 S. Fifth St. The county considered several spots for the court, but determined that the Central Point office would be the most cost-effective over time, Slack said.

The court was originally planned to have been operational by now, with the initial application deadline on May 21. The governor extended that deadline and the appointment had been in limbo until now.

Winters said he was upset by the governor's decision because he can't hire four deputies to man the traffic team until the Justice Court opens. Winters has touted the team as essential to reducing the county's traffic-related deaths, which ' at 32 ' have already exceeded last year's number, he said.

We lose two more months, Winters said. It's like throwing a fly in a can of molasses.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail