With her retirement less than a week away, Judge Barbara Haslinger hasn’t bothered to start cleaning out her office at the Deschutes County Courthouse.
After all, she’ll be coming back to work the very next day.
June 30 is the official last day on the bench for Haslinger, who has logged nearly 24 years as a judge in Deschutes County. Last month, Bend lawyer Randy Miller won the election to take her place, but Miller won’t be seated until January.
Instead, Haslinger will remain on the bench, in the first of what she expects to be several stints as a substitute judge of sorts, over the next five years. Judges in Oregon are eligible for retirement benefits once they turn 60 — Haslinger turned 60 in March — but they can boost their benefits by providing 175 days of service as an unpaid fill-in judge after their official retirement.
Haslinger said she hasn’t made too many plans for her near-retirement just yet. She’s hoping to spend a bit more time traveling with her husband and plans to take classes from the Oregon State University Extension Service master gardeners.
“For some reason, I can’t get my sunflowers to grow,” she said.
Portland-born, Haslinger came to Central Oregon just after graduating from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1981. At the time, she was one of three female lawyers practicing in Deschutes County.
Haslinger practiced general law in her first few years in Central Oregon and served as a pro tem judge for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and as a public defender in Redmond’s municipal court.
In 1990, Haslinger applied for and received a judicial appointment from Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, who was called upon to fill a vacancy on the Deschutes County District Court.
At 35 years old, Haslinger was at the time the youngest judge in the state and Deschutes County’s first female judge. (She’s since been joined by Chief Judge Alta Brady and Judge Beth Bagley.)
“What they told me at the time was there was certainly an interest in bringing female judges to the bench, but ultimately, the decision was going to be the most qualified candidate,” Haslinger said.
For much of her career, Haslinger handled the district court docket — misdemeanor criminal cases, family law and civil cases with claims of less than $10,000 — while judges on the circuit court dealt with felonies and higher-dollar civil cases.
The district and circuit courts were consolidated in 1998, and Haslinger accordingly was named a circuit court judge, but she continued to specialize in lower-profile cases until just a few years ago.
Haslinger said that although she’s had plenty of memorable cases, she’s hesitant to discuss the details publicly.
“I’m reluctant to talk about cases because they aren’t cases. They’re people,” she said. “One that would be memorable would be the woman who showed up without clothes.”
In 2001, pro-nudity activist Terri Webb was called to Haslinger’s courtroom to answer charges of disorderly conduct for repeatedly appearing nude in Bend. She stripped down to a pair of red cowboy boots in the courtroom.
Haslinger had Webb arrested for contempt, and she said the episode was a reminder of the need for a judge to maintain impartiality and deal fairly with those who come before the court, even in the most unusual circumstances.
One of the few mementos from Haslinger’s career on display in her office is a handwritten letter from a man who appeared in her courtroom years ago. The framed letter, sent along with the coin the man received from Alcoholics Anonymous to mark 10 years of sobriety, is a thank-you note in which the man credits Haslinger with helping him turn his life around.
“That’s what’s most memorable for me, is the cases where I felt like I made a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
Haslinger said she’s seen far too many people appear repeatedly in her courtroom over the years, particularly for driving under the influence of intoxicants. She said it’s “maddening” to see the same defendants again and again, and while she’s often tried to find the right words to get through to repeat offenders, there’s only so much a judge or the legal system can do.
“Some people choose to drink because of losses, the loss of a loved one, and I’ll remind them, ‘Is this how your loved one would want to see you, in and out of jail, putting your life and other’s lives at risk?’” she said. “But, ultimately, it’s up to them.”
Haslinger said the reality of her retirement won’t fully sink in until she actually vacates the courthouse sometime this summer. While she expects many of her fill-in assignments will be in Deschutes County, she said she’ll miss her near-daily visits with the courthouse staff and lawyers she’s known for years.
“I can definitely feel it already,” she said. “I love the work that I do. I love the legal challenges. I love interacting with people.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0387, firstname.lastname@example.org