Two Corvallis attorneys will now answer to a different title in court, at least some of the time: “Your Honor.”
Jennifer Nash and John Barlow were sworn in as “pro tem” judges Wednesday afternoon at the Benton County Courthouse.
“Basically, Jennifer and John can act as judges in any circuit court across the state,” said Benton County Trial Court Administrator Linda Hukari. “They’re actually certified to sit as judges in our courts.”
Although Nash and Barlow could work in other counties, they’ll have a standing work order from Benton County, Hukari said. Nash will take over juvenile drug court from Judge Locke Williams; Barlow will handle small claims and other cases that don’t involve attorneys, such as violations.
Neither will receive any compensation, as the “pro tems” have agreed to work “pro bono,” a Latin phrase that means “for the public good.” In a legal context, it means “free of charge.”
The new judges will help free up calender time and will provide the three trial court judges with more time to write opinions.
“It wasn’t that we’re totally so back-logged that we had to have them, but it will be a huge help,” Hukari said.
Having lawyers serve as pro tems is not unusual in Oregon, he said. Yamhill and Clackamas counties use the judges in small claims court; Marion County uses them for domestic relations cases, such divorces, where the parties are representing themselves. In many of those counties, the judges work for free.
“We are definitely not the first in Oregon to have pro-tem lawyers — volunteer judges — doing volunteer work for us,” Hukari said.
To become pro tem judges, both Nash and Barlow had to submit applications and be interviewed by a screening committee of local attorneys. The committee and Benton County Circuit Court presiding Judge Locke Williams then recommended Nash and Barlow for pro tem status to the Oregon Supreme Court, which gave final approval.
Nash and Barlow’s roles as judges will have to be weighed against any potential conflict; they are both practicing attorneys.
Nash said her firm has stopped taking delinquency cases as a precaution against any conflicts, but would deal with any issues “as they come up; as any judge would.”
Barlow said he has been involved in arbitrations for years, so small claims court is “not going to be completely foreign territory.”
He said his firm’s founder, John Fenner, advocated community service, which is part of what prompted Barlow’s desire to work as a pro tem.
“I’m hoping that by serving this way I’ll be able to make sure people do get prompt and fair hearings,” he said. “I just look at it as an opportunity to do something to contribute to the court system instead of always being a consumer there.”
Nash will oversee juvenile drug court Thursday afternoons. She’ll also deal with any immediate issues related to juvenile drug court cases.
Like Barlow, Nash has experience in the area she’ll be serving. She was on the drug court planning team when the program began in 2000, has been a defense attorney for adult drug court and has served on the Friends of Drug Treatment Court board.
“I am excited,” she said. “It is definitely a challenge.”