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Pulling names: Gladstone court's quirky tradition
- Raymond Rendleman
- Clackamas Review - News
After pulling jury names from a box for decades, city court going digital
It would be an understatement to say that tradition is strong in Gladstone, a city that just re-elected its mayor for a ninth four-year term. And although its judge, Phil Ringle, is entering his 45th year in the position, making him the state's longest continuously serving municipal judge, he's not adverse to making changes.
These days, Ringle, 79, is pushing for a computerized system for selecting jurors that would phase out the traditional method of picking names out of a hat, bag, box or whatever happens to be most handy. At the beginning of each year, it's been Assistant City Administrator Jolene Morishita's job to select 250 names from Gladstone's jury-eligible population. Morishita is currently using a plastic box that is commonly used for keeping recipes.
'This will save about 15 minutes of each person's time, and since we have about six trials a year, that adds up,' Ringle said.
Gladstone City Administrator Pete Boyce, who is himself a fairly recent change to the city after taking charge of day-to-day affairs last year, hopes the new process will just be a little more efficient so that city staffers won't have to print out all the names and cut them into little slips. But there's also a part of him that will always remember the old system.
'When I was assistant city administrator, I had the pleasure of going through this little process at least once,' Boyce said. 'I don't know if I'd call it exciting-you just have to make sure that you pull out the right number of names.'
For specific trials, a court clerk currently watches as lawyers take turns pulling slips of paper out of the 250-name box until they can agree on a six-person jury with three alternates.
If computerization were implemented, it wouldn't be the first time that change has come to Gladstone's court.
Ringle started out working with a manual typewriter, then he got an electric typewriter, and now he uses a computer for word processing. A couple of decades ago, the city used to select the jury the same way with 100 names instead of 250, but the number of trials each year roughly doubled from three to six.
'The way the laws are composed now there aren't too many times when folks are asking for a jury trial,' Ringle said. 'It's vacillated back and forth in the last 15 years between five and eight trials per year.'
Drunk driving misdemeanors are the most common charges to appear before Ringle's court with a jury present. Violations aren't entitled to a jury trial, and felony charges are sent to the circuit court in Oregon City.
Mayor Wade Byers said he's comfortable with the city considering computerization of its court and would be happy to support the measures, assuming that city staff and council are in agreement. He pointed out that every town has its quirks.
'It's more a curiosity than anything else, he said. 'Every small government has its own ways of doing things, if you read all the city charters, every city has something interesting.'