Two seek open judgeship
Voters will choose between two lawyers, both of who started their legal careers after working other jobs, for a newly created Washington County judgeship.
The winner in the May 15 primary will assume Circuit Court Position 15, which the Legislature created in 2017 but specified that it be filled by election instead of appointment by the governor.
The position is nonpartisan. The term is six years.
Judicial contests are rare, even though Oregon requires election of judges. Washington County has one other local contest on the ballot, between two-term incumbent Charles Bailey and challenger Steven Charles Burke for Position 6.
Todd Huegli and Kathy Proctor have appeared jointly at least twice, at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum and the Washington County Bar Association.
Huegli, 40, was a software engineer until he earned a dual degree in law and master's in business administration from Willamette University in 2008. After three years at the Metropolitan Public Defender in Hillsboro, he founded Huegli-Fraser PC in Portland in 2012.
Though his law practice has focused on personal injury and abuse cases and insurance claims, Huegli says he has handled a broader range of cases — and more of them — than his opponent.
"Judges are expected to handle all of the assignments. They rotate through these assignments over time," he said. "A candidate for judge must be comfortable handling a wide variety of cases because they are making important decisions for the parties and the community at large."
Proctor, 55, worked for SAIF Corp. — Oregon's largest provider of workers' compensation insurance — for nine years until she earned a law degree and certificate in dispute resolution from Willamette University in 2005.
Her firm is based in Beaverton.
She has focused on family law, which she says will be an asset to the court as other judges with relevant experience retire.
"I believe right now, our court needs someone who has the kind of experience that I have. But I would be effective in whatever position I am assigned," she said. "To be an effective domestic relations and juvenile judge, one needs to have the desire and dedication for this area of law as much as the experience."
She is a three-time president of the county bar association, the chairwoman of the regional disciplinary committee of the Oregon State Bar, and a past board chairwoman of the Domestic Violence Resource Center.
In a preference poll of lawyers conducted by the Oregon State Bar, Proctor received 124 votes, Huegli 113.
Huegli earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Oregon in 2001.
"I left software engineering … so I could work more directly with and help people in need," he said.
At the Metropolitan Public Defender office in Hillsboro, Huegli worked on child and spousal support cases, and represented people with severe mental illness in civil commitment cases.
He then joined the Spanish language team, where he represented people whose primary language was Spanish — and many of his clients faced deportation depending on the outcome of their criminal cases.
"What I learned during this time, and in the subsequent years as I have focused my practice on civil law, is that a judge is in a unique position to not only help the parties in the courtroom solve difficult problems, but also to help the greater community build trust and faith in our system of justice," he said.
Huegli said his experience extends to more than 1,700 cases of all types, including those during more than five years at his own law firm.
"My litigation experience includes a significant number of jury trials and thousands of hearings. I have handled cases in many areas of law," he said.
"My experience as a public defender would bring a needed perspective to the bench," he said. "My broad background across many areas of law, including my extensive in court experience, makes me uniquely qualified to be a circuit court judge.
Proctor said she always had a legal career in mind.
"I liked the idea of being able to help people who could not help themselves and in getting the truth out," she said.
After earning a bachelor's degree from Southern Oregon University in 1989 — with a major in English and minor in Spanish — she ended up at SAIF Corp., where she was in her ninth year in 2001.
"The devastation of the Sept. 11 attacks had a large impact on me and caused me to rethink my life and my career," she said. "I knew I was not contributing to the world in a way that had meaning to me."
For most of the dozen years since she earned a law degree and certificate in dispute resolution from Willamette University, Proctor has specialized in family law.
"Almost any legal issue you can imagine can be involved in a divorce or custody case," she said. "Family law attorneys become familiar with the psychological impact of divorce on a family, including the children; they must learn about the complexities of financial issues and budgeting. These cases require life and legal experience."
She said that while Huegli has done some work in support cases, they do not constitute the in-depth experience in family law that Washington County needs on the bench.
"In addition, only four out of the current 14 judges are women," she said.
Here are candidates' full written responses to two key questions for Circuit Court Position 15:
Why did you choose to change careers and go to law school?
"Helping people has always been the driving force in my life. I left software engineering and earned a joint JD & MBA at Willamette so I could work more directly with and help people in need.
"I volunteered at Metropolitan Public Defender during law school, and for several years following, I worked as a staff attorney for MPD in Hillsboro. I first represented people in child support & spousal support cases. During this time I also represented people suffering from severe mental illness and defended them in civil commitment hearings when they had no other advocate.
"I then joined the Spanish language team and began representing people who spoke Spanish as a first language. Most often they had ICE holds and were also facing deportation. The majority of the time the outcome of the criminal case had a profound effect on the deportation proceedings.
"What I learned during this time, and in the subsequent years as I have focused my practice on civil law, is that a judge is in a unique position to not only help the parties in the courtroom solve difficult problems, but also to help the greater community build trust and faith in our system of justice by treating everyone with respect and dignity, making sure their voices are heard and applying the law fairly. Serving as a judge will allow me to build trust in our system of justice both in the courtroom and the community."
Why would you be the better choice for this open position?
"This is a trial judge position, and it is important that a trial judge have extensive in-court experience across many areas of law. I have litigated a significant number of cases in court and have litigated more than 1700 filed cases overall compared to my opponent's 232 cases. My litigation experience includes a significant number of jury trials and thousands of hearings.
"I have handled cases in many areas of law including domestic relations, probate, mental health, drug court, criminal, property disputes, collections and torts. My experience as a public defender would bring a needed perspective to the bench. My broad background across many areas of law, including my extensive in court experience, makes me uniquely qualified to be a circuit court judge."
Why did you choose to change careers and go to law school?
"I had always wanted to go to law school. I liked the idea of being able to help people who could not help themselves and in getting the truth out. As I am sure many other lawyers of my generation did, I watched "Perry Mason." I admired his steadfast search for the truth. I put myself through undergraduate school and earned a bachelor's in English. My minor focus was in Spanish.
"In 2001 I was in my ninth year of a career in workers' compensation. The devastation of the Sept. 11 attacks had a large impact on me and caused me to rethink my life and my career. I knew I was not contributing to the world in a way that had meaning to me. I applied to Willamette University College of Law and was accepted. My two youngest children were just beginning elementary school.
"I quit my job and in 3 years earned a J.D. and certificate in dispute resolution from Willamette. I eventually opened up my own law firm. I have practiced in Washington County for about twelve years now focusing on family law. I often represent children in divorce cases pro-bono and encourage others in my firm to do so as well."
Why would you be the better choice for this open position?
"It is known to the legal community in Washington County that this new open position will be a family law position and possibly family law with some contested juvenile cases. Family law attorneys are litigators, but we are also collaborators, counselors at law and negotiations. "Family law is much more complex than most people realize. Almost any legal issue you can imagine can be involved in a divorce or custody case. Family law attorneys become familiar with the psychological impact of divorce on a family, including the children; they must learn about the complexities of financial issues and budgeting. These cases require life and legal experience, as well as a maturity, patience, and a desire to learn about the impact of violence, drugs, mental health issues, aging and the like in order to guide and counsel those impacted by the very personal life events of divorce, child custody and financial stress.
"A very high percentage of family law cases involve at least one person who is self-represented. This means that there will not be an attorney on at least one side that can be counted on to educate the judge on the law and to succinctly frame the issues. Additionally, family law court is a court of equity. That means that while the court must utilize the law and rules of evidence and trial procedure, the court also has a lot of discretion. It is critical for the sake of families and children that the person elected to this position have the experience necessary to make reasoned and equitable decisions and to understand the statutes, administrative rules, case law and public policy regarding the many decisions that impact families.
"My opponent has done some child support enforcement cases in his work with the public defenders office, but this is an extremely narrowly focused issue and does not provide the in-depth experience that I have in family law.
"Our court is losing experienced family law judges through retirement and that trend is expected to continue. Another experienced family law, and woman, judge is retiring from the bench this year. Our court needs experienced family law judges. Many of our current judges have criminal law experience and civil law experience, but few have family law backgrounds. In addition, only 4 out of the current 14 judges are women and with Judge Thompson's retirement that will skew the balance of the court even more. The court should reflect the community it serves and since 50 percent of our population is women it makes sense to have a more balanced representation of women on the bench.
"I have spent years volunteering in Washington County and elsewhere in order to make our community better. I have been on the board of the Washington County Bar Association (WCBA) for many years and served as its president three times. I have organized volunteers to file paperwork at the court when our court was short staffed. I recognized the hardworking support staff at the court by awarding them the WCBA President's Award. I was on a juvenile diversion panel in Clackamas County where I also underwent training in restorative justice. I am a volunteer mediator for small claims in Washington County. I am the Region 4 Chair of the Oregon State Bar disciplinary committee which is responsible for hearing lawyer disciplinary cases. I also mentor new lawyers through the bar. Finally, I was the past chair of the board for the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Washington County.
"In addition to my volunteer activities and family law experience, I have experience with restraining order cases, stalking cases, probate, elder law, and personal injury. I have taken criminal cases before a jury on both the prosecution and defense side. I have even argued before the Court of Appeals. My life and legal experience makes me the more qualified candidate even if this was not a family law position, but since it is, I am the most logical choice for the court at this time."