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Scales and gavelA Primer

Unlike the U.S. Constitution that separates the political and legal functions of government by making both the structure and personnel of the judiciary dependent on the legislative and executive branches, Oregon's Constitution requires that leaders of all three branches answer directly to the people.At least that's how the theory goes.

The vision of the Oregon Constitution involves a robust political competition of ideas and philosophies so that the people can make the best possible decision between candidates. While within the legislative and executive branches this vision remains, in the judicial branch such competition long ago dissolved. Although one could easily lay blame on early 20th century Progressives who eschewed politics in favor of a more "orderly" administrative state, some blame likely falls to the people themselves as we seemingly confer a type of reverence to the judicial robes that places judges above the political fray.

Thus a pattern that dramatically favors the political party in power has emerged:  It's all a matter of timing. Judicial terms of office are six years. When a judge is ready to step down, the move typically occurs near mid-term, i.e. about three years in. Had the judge decided to step down at the end of the term, the vacancy would likely have attracted at least a couple of lawyers or judges serving in a different capacity. Instead, the governor is "forced" to fill the vacancy. When the term expires, the judge faces the people for the first time, virtually always unopposed.

Vote for JudgeTake as an example the case of Timothy Sercombe, recently retired from the Oregon Court of Appeals. He was appointed to the bench by Gov. Kulongoski in 2007, a little over a year before the end of the term. He ran unopposed in 2008 and was (of course) elected. When in 2012 a position on the Supreme Court opened, he sought election to it along with two other candidates. He lost. Again in 2014 he ran for a second full term on the Court of Appeals. Again, he was unopposed. Although his term doesn't expire until 2021, he stepped down last year, making it possible for Gov. Brown to appoint the replacement. Wash, rinse, repeat.

What makes Sercombe interesting is that in August 2012 he wrote an article for the Oregon State Bar Bulletin in which he asserted, "It's difficult and expensive to run a statewide judicial campaign, and it poses a particular challenge in that voters have less information about how courts work, from which to make political judgments, than they do about what their state legislator or governor is doing."Uhhh, news flash, judge, there's no point in campaigning when you're UNOPPOSED. While he is correct to say that voters have little idea what a judge does and the role one plays in the political sphere, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the lawyers and judges themselves by placing rules and even laws over the electoral process that are unique to judges and that serve only to shroud them in mystery and, in general, make them unresponsive to voters.

The Revised Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct states that judges and candidates for judicial positions must not:

  • make pledges or promises of conduct in office that could inhibit or compromise the faithful, impartial and diligent performance of the duties of the office;
  • publicly identify, for the purpose of election, as a member of a political party other than by registering to vote;
  • personally solicit campaign contributions in money or in kind.

Marion County Circuit Court, Position 5

Anthony Behrens

Anthony Behrens graduated from Willamette School of Law in 1995. He began his career in Umatilla County where for five years he was a senior deputy DA and chief sex crimes prosecutor. It was here he earned his nickname, "the Bear" because, as he recalls, "when warranted, I could be pretty tenacious and because my last name is Behrens (Bear–enz)."

Moving back to the Willamette Valley, he took a position as an administrative law judge with the Oregon Office of Administrative Hearings from 2000 to 2005 and served as a judge pro-tem in Marion County from 2005 to 2007. For the past 10 years he has worked as a legislative liaison and senior policy advisor for the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. In this role has drafted legislation as well as interacted with the legislature. He has also had a private practice, handling civil cases. It is this wide range of experiences that makes him most qualified to step into the role of Circuit Court Judge; in all he has seven years of experience as a judge, along with experience as both a prosecutor and civil and criminal defense attorney. "Although I’ve had varying roles, my perspective has remained the same: No matter the complexity of the issue or the gravity of the matter — whether it be a dispute in small claims court or a racketeering and securities fraud prosecution — the parties involved and the people affected deserve fair consideration, thoughtful attention, and clear communication."

Per his campaign web site, Mr. Behrens is completely self-funding his campaign. For him, it is a matter of integrity and independence: "I don't want to feel beholden to anyone," he told Whitney Woodworth of the Statesman-Jounal in April. It also appears to be consistent with the third bullet point of the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct above.

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Daniel WrenDaniel Wren is a Willamette Law graduate, class of 2005. Upon graduation he was a law clerk for the Marion County District Attorney before going into private practice for 10 years. During that time he was active with the Juvenile Advocacy Consortium, helping DHS-involved families, youth offenders and parents. In 2011 he helped to create the Veterans Treatment Court in Marion County. For the past two years, he has worked as a judge pro-tem (temporarily or "for the time being") in the Marion County Court Annex, hearing 70 to 100 cases a day.

It was while serving as a pro-tem judge on the Monmouth Municipal Court from 2013 until joining the Marion County Court in 2016 that he came to realize, "serving as an elected Judge in Marion County was the direction my legal career was heading and it is a position that suits my experience, temperament, character and personality." 

Per his campaign web site, Mr. Wren has been endorsed by Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers, outgoing Marion County DA Walt Beglau, district attorney-elect Paige Clarkson, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett, and all 13 sitting Marion County judges. He has spent about $18,000 on his campaign and has received almost $27,000 in contributions. Since his web site prominently displays a "Donate" button, one might wonder how he reconciles his large war chest with the Code of Conduct above.

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