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Cromwell takes judge's seat

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has tapped prosecutor Laura Cromwell to replace Jackson County Circuit Judge Patricia Crain, a drug treatment court pioneer who will retire Aug. 31.

Cromwell, a senior deputy district attorney, is the first member of the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office to be assigned specifically to cases involving defendants with mental health issues.

She also handles cases in which family members or others are trying to have a person involuntary committed to a psychiatric institution for mental health treatment.

“Laura Cromwell is a hard-working prosecutor with unbounded talent, who is both compassionate and fair,” Brown said in a statement announcing the appointment. “I have no doubt that she will serve the people of Jackson County well as a circuit court judge.”

With the DA’s Office since 2007, Cromwell prosecuted a range of criminal cases before her assignment to the mental health caseload.

Her appointment as judge takes effect Sept. 1, according to the governor’s office.

In order to keep the seat, Cromwell will have to win in the Nov. 6 general election.

Cromwell is facing Medford lawyer Charles Kochlacs.

Both were among candidates who submitted applications to the governor to be appointed as judge to replace Crain. Cromwell and Kochlacs have filed election paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office to run for the position in the upcoming election.

Kochlacs, who practices criminal, family and juvenile law, said he has represented men, women and children — including abused and neglected victims — and has worked as both a hired and court-appointed attorney. He said he has been a lawyer in Jackson County for 30 years.

“I’ve been in the courts every day for many years and I believe I’ll make a great judge,” he said.

Crain won re-election in 2016 and said she would serve the full six-year term, but then announced her retirement plans this summer.

Cromwell said campaigning will be an intense, quick process given the timing of Crain’s retirement announcement.

Cromwell said pursuing a judicial post had become one of her goals over the past few years. Her top concerns are public safety, along with the mental health and drug addiction crises facing the county.

“What it comes down to is I’m really invested in this community,” Cromwell said.

Cromwell said she considered running for Position 9 on the court. The election for that seat included a May primary with four contenders, two of whom were prosecutors in the DA’s Office.

“Two of my colleagues were putting their names in, and I didn’t want to run against my colleagues,” Cromwell said. “This time around, this opportunity presented itself.”

Deputy District Attorney David Orr finished first in the May primary for Position 9 and advanced to a November election run-off with second-place finisher Joe Davis, a Medford lawyer who practices civil law.

Kochlacs said Jackson County Circuit Court is already heavily weighted with judges who worked primarily in criminal law during their careers as lawyers. He said the court needs to add judges with extensive experience in civil law.

“With those kinds of cases, you shouldn’t be trained on the job. You have to be ready to jump in and do those kinds of cases the day you are elected,” Kochlacs said.

Since Cromwell and Orr are prosecutors, Kochlacs said, the court would become even more heavily weighted toward judges with criminal law experience over civil experience if they both win election. Kochlacs said the court is already backlogged on civil cases.

“I think the county really deserves to have more diversity in that regard,” he said.

Orr worked for several years as a public defense lawyer in Kansas and as a civil lawyer before becoming a prosecutor for Linn County in 2000. He became a deputy district attorney in Jackson County in 2003.

Davis, Orr’s opponent, started his career as a prosecutor. Davis then worked in civil litigation for other companies before launching his own law firm focused on family aspects of civil law, including divorce, custody and support cases.

Davis volunteers as a judge pro tem for Jackson County Circuit Court, handling small claims cases and filling in for criminal arraignment and sentencing hearings when judges are gone.

Cromwell’s past career experience includes work for the Bexar County DA’s Office in Texas, the Multnomah County DA’s Office and the attorney general of Texas, according to information she provided to the Secretary of State’s office for the coming election.

Cromwell said she is prepared to handle either criminal or civil cases for Jackson County Circuit Court.

“Wherever they need me, I’ll go,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Charles Kochlacs
Mail Tribune file photoLaura Cromwell is Jackson County's newest judge.