Oregon lawmakers are doing something they’ve done regularly in recent years. They’re considering a bill that would add judges to a state court system that is overburdened and understaffed. Surely nowhere is that more apparent than in Deschutes County, which has seven circuit court judges.
House Bill 2239 would give the county another judge. That would improve the situation here, but it’s still short of the 2.5 judges a study of caseloads shows the county needs.
Wells Ashby, presiding judge of Deschutes County’s circuit court, submitted testimony in favor of HB 2239 before a public hearing on the measure on Jan. 22.
An additional judge would, Ashby wrote, help the county’s circuit court do right by children and parents caught up in dependency cases and in shelter care hearings and termination trials, which can mean the removal of a child from the family home. Resolving those cases quickly is best for parents and children alike.
Too, Ashby wrote, an additional judge would help the local court to reduce the time it takes to get to trial in criminal cases. In driving under the influence cases, for example, if a trial is delayed too long the charges must be dismissed. Ashby argues dismissals can put the public at risk.
Lawmakers should listen to Ashby and others who spoke in favor of HB 2239. Deschutes County’s lack of judges is becoming a real problem, and it’s one that only the Legislature can fix. Nor is the judge shortage limited to this county.
Unfortunately, lawmakers have added no new judges since 2007, when the state was home to nearly half a million fewer people than it is today. Also unfortunately, even if lawmakers find money for all the new judges the state’s Judicial Department says it needs, those men and women won’t arrive on the job until 2021.