Last week, Gov. Kate Brown announced the appointment of current Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins to succeed Gary Williams as Circuit Court Judge of Oregon's 22nd Judicial District.
The 22nd District encompasses Jefferson and Crook counties, and Vitolins will fill the vacancy the day after the retirement of Williams on June 30.
"Daina Vitolins has been serving the people of Central Oregon as a prosecutor in Crook County for more than a decade," Brown said. "She has earned a reputation as a passionate advocate for the rule of law and the public good. Her commitment to justice will enrich the bench of Oregon's 22nd Judicial District."
Vitolins has served Crook County as district attorney since 2008 and is the immediate past president of the Oregon District Attorney's Association.
From 2006 to 2008, she worked as the county's deputy district attorney, and before moving to Central Oregon in 2006, she worked for several years at the Oregon Department of Justice in Salem, as a deputy district attorney in Polk County, and early in her career as a staff attorney at Marion-Polk Legal Aid Service.
Vitolins attended law school at Willamette University and earned her bachelor's degree at the College of Idaho.
"I am deeply honored that Gov. Brown has chosen me to fill the Crook/Jefferson County judicial vacancy created by the retirement of the Honorable Gary Williams," Vitolins said. "I look forward and am excited to continue my public service as a circuit court judge."
Vitolins sought the judge position because she was ready to move to the next level in the judicial system.
"I have been an advocate for a very long time, all of my career," she explained, "I wanted to move to the next level and resolve community disputes."
She looks forward to several aspects of the new job, particularly the chance to hear civil cases and especially dependency cases, which involve children who have been removed from their parents.
"I think those cases are some of the most important that judges hear," she said.
After announcing his retirement earlier this year, Williams said that his judge position has historically been held by someone living in Crook County. He expressed hope that whoever succeeded him would likewise live in the Prineville area. Vitolins, who is a Crook County resident, agreed.
"I think that's extremely important," she said, noting that the other two judges for the 22nd Judicial District — Daniel Ahern and Annette Hillman — live in Jefferson County. "If you don't know the community where you are making decisions … how can you serve the community?"
However, Vitolins will not hear many cases in Crook County when she first takes over the position on July 1.
"I won't actually start working as a judge until Aug. 14," she said, which is the first Monday after her investiture on Aug. 11.
And once she begins working as a judge, much of that work will take place in Jefferson County to avoid hearing cases that she worked as a district attorney. Vitolins has been told by Ahern, who is the presiding judge of the 22nd Judicial District, that it will take a minimum of six months and a maximum of 12 months for those cases to reach their conclusion.
"But that's on criminal cases," Vitolins adds. "I can hear civil cases in Crook County right away."
Vitolins will serve as judge until the next general election in November 2018, and would need to win the position by election to remain judge thereafter. Meanwhile, the district attorney position she is vacating will need to be filled by governor appointment. Whoever is appointed would likewise serve until the next general election.