Rohrer quits as Forks District Court judge

Successor to be appointed to fill unexpired term

Erik Rohrer

Erik Rohrer

FORKS — District Court 2 Judge Erik Rohrer, elected to the part-time position in 2018 following a hard-fought contest against John Black, is resigning effective Feb. 1, two years before his term expires.

It will be the third elected judgeship in Clallam County since 2012 that Rohrer has resigned from before completing a four-year term. He has served as a judge in different courts for 20 years.

Rohrer, who said in the 2018 Peninsula Daily News General Election Voter Guide that he intended to serve a full term, announced his decision Monday in a prepared statement emailed to the Forks Forum which, like the PDN, is owned by Sound Publishing Inc.

“I recently received a statement from Social Security reminding me that I’ve been steadily employed every year since the ’70s,” Rohrer, 62, said in the statement.

“I’ve been blessed with a very satisfying and successful legal career and have achieved what I set out to do as an attorney and judge. The events of the past year helped me decide that this is the right time to prioritize other areas of my life.” He said he “is ‘looking forward to spending more time on trails than in trials,’ in the coming years.”

Before his judicial career, Rohrer served as an assistant attorney general and as an attorney in private practice.

Rohrer notified county officials of his decision Wednesday in a “notice of retirement,” county Administrator-Human Resources Manager Rich Sill said.

Clallam County commissioners will begin discussing the process of appointing a successor to fill Rohrer’s unexpired term at their Monday work session, board Chairman Mark Ozias said Wednesday.

“It’s always unfortunate when someone cannot finish the term for which they were elected, for whatever reason,” Ozias said.

“I would like to try to find a candidate who shares the qualities and philosophies of Judge Rohrer, who was elected by the people.

“The qualities I would look for in a judge are knowledge of the law, a sense of fairness, a high sense of ethics, a sense of justice and compassion, empathy.”

Rohrer was appointed District Court 2 judge in 2001, succeeding current state Supreme Court Justice Susan Owens.

He was elected to the judgeship in 2002 and re-elected in 2006 and 2010 before resigning in 2012, when he ran successfully for Superior Court judge against Chris Melly.

Rohrer won re-election unopposed in 2016 before resigning two years later to go back to District Court 2 after defeating Black by 28 votes out of 2,834 cast.

Black said Wednesday he is “leaning toward” applying for the district court position, noting he won both Forks precincts in 2018. Rohrer had strong showings in the Beaver, Clallam Bay and Sun precincts.

Black said, if elected, he and his wife would move from Sequim to the Forks District Court 2 voting district, which lies west of Lake Crescent and stretches to Neah Bay.

Rohrer did not return calls for comment Thursday about his impending resignation.

Sill said he may suggest that commissioners vet applicants by employing a six-page questionnaire that Gov. Jay Inslee uses to make Superior Court and statewide judicial appointments.

County commissioners used the questionnaire when they filled the District Court 2 position after Rohrer resigned the first time.

Ozias said commissioners will start setting out a timeline Monday for replacing Rohrer, and he expects that will include some form of public participation.

“I hope to have someone selected by the end of this calendar year so we can have an orderly transition,” he said.

Under state law, the person chosen must serve until immediately after the 2022 election, when that person or an elected successor takes office.

The three county commissioners, rather than voters, will choose a judge with a head start on getting elected.

“It’s clear that in virtually any election, incumbents have a certain advantage,” Ozias said.

“You’re typically more familiar with the issues.

“You have a record on which to run.

“But if you are a skilled challenger, you can work to turn those into disadvantages or focus on your own advantages.”

Rod Fleck, Forks city-attorney planner, said Forks District Court 2 voters will set aside incumbency status.

“What and how does the community see that person is more important to that position than being a one- or two-year incumbent,” he said.

If the appointed person is doing fine in the eyes of the legal community and the community at large, Fleck said he would not expect “a real rush” to find a replacement in 2022.

Inslee initially appointed Superior Court Judges Brent Basden, Lauren Erickson and Simon Barnhart.

Since 2014, Inslee has appointed successors to Superior Court Judges Brooke Taylor, George L. Wood, Brian Coughenhour, Melly and Rohrer. Taylor and Wood had three years left when they resigned.

Coughenour resigned June 1, two weeks after the candidate filing period for the Nov. 3 election.

Basden and Barnhart, Coughenour’s successor, are running unopposed.

Erickson is running against Sequim resident Lisa Dublin, the Tacoma division chief administrative law judge with the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

No appointees have lost elections at least since 2014.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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