Contest emerges for West End District Court judgeship

John Black

John Black

PORT ANGELES — A two-man race has emerged for the West End District Court 2 judge position being vacated by longtime jurist John Doherty, who announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer said Friday he wants to return to the part-time, four-year post he resigned from in 2012.

Attorney John Black of Sequim, who has offices in Port Angeles and Forks, announced March 9 that he will seek the three-days-a-week position.

To retake the West End judgeship, Rohrer would resign from his Superior Court position with two years left on his four-year term.

Erik Rohrer

Erik Rohrer

Gov. Jay Inslee would name a replacement to fill out the term until the 2020 election.

Filing week for the general election, which includes several countywide seats including sheriff and prosecuting attorney, is May 14-18.

“My main point is that I’ve been an actual judge for nearly 18 years,” Rohrer said in a telephone interview. “I don’t have any issues and problems. I’m a proven candidate.

“People know me, people respect me, and I am hoping people will vote for me.”

Rohrer was appointed to the District Court 2 position in 2001 to replace Susan Owens, who resigned and was elected to a state Supreme Court justice position.

Rohrer, who has a Port Angeles mailing address and lives west of Lake Crescent, was elected to the District Court 2 position in 2002 and re-elected in 2006 and 2010.

He resigned in 2012 when he was elected to the Superior Court post he now holds and was re-elected in 2016 without opposition.

Rohrer said his wife, Cari, recently retired from her job with the Quillayute Valley School District as a junior high school science teacher.

“I had no intention of leaving my job, but when this opportunity came up, my wife and I discussed it,” Rohrer said.

“We both felt after talking about it that it would be a good opportunity to take advantage of if possible.

“I just turned 60, and that kind of led to some of these discussions with her.”

Rohrer said other judges have resigned before the end of their terms.

They include Owens and Clallam County Superior Court Judges Brooke Taylor, who resigned in 2013 with three years left, and George L. Wood, who resigned in 2015 with 1½ years remaining.

“When someone runs for a term, I don’t think they are making an ironclad promise that they are serving out their term,” he said.

“I think [voters] understand that situations may change.

“I can’t just say I left willy-nilly from these positions.

“I have every intention to fill out this term if elected.”

Doherty said Saturday he would endorse Rohrer.

“He’s got every kind of judicial experience one would expect,” Doherty said in a voice mail message.

Black said Friday that District 2 voters benefit by having a choice.

“However, I am disturbed that [Rohrer] had that position once, five years ago and now he is willing to abandon his Superior Court position prior to the completion of his term and his promise, again, to voters who voted him in.”

Rohrer said in his news release that if he’s elected, he would run the court the same way he did for 12 years, “with fairness, integrity and common sense.”

Rohrer said he was not running to “make major changes.”

He said he is an advocate for therapeutic courts to address the underlying causes of criminal activity and is the judge for Drug Court and a therapeutic court for individuals with mental health issues.

“My interest is to review everything with a fresh set of eyes and then proceed from there as appropriate,” he said in the statement.

Black predicted that if Rohrer is elected, “it will be the same old thing going on for the last 15 years, and I plan on bringing change to the court.”

Black said he would consider establishing a 24-7 program that require defendants to undergo alcohol and drug testing while a case is pending and before dealing with legal issues, as well as establishing a DUI-drug court and pushing for establishment of a recovery house.

Rohrer said he would serve on the Superior Court bench until after he is elected, and would continue as a Superior Court judge if he loses.

“My departure is contingent on my election,” Rohrer said. “I am perfectly happy to stay where I am.

“I love this job. It’s a challenging job.”

County administrator Jim Jones said if Rohrer is elected, he would have to resign between when the election is certified on Nov. 17 and before taking office in mid-January.

Once Rohrer had resigned, county officials would forward a message to Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff that there was a pending vacancy on the court and when that vacancy would become effective, Jones said.

If Inslee does not appoint a judge by the time Rohrer takes office, “we would probably have to do without one until he does,” Jones said.

He recalled around 2010, when King County had eight judge openings for the governor to fill after the jurists resigned.

Rohrer, the senior Superior Court judge among Christopher Melly and Brian Coughenour, said the judges and court administrative staff are “in good shape” to continue as an effective unit if he’s elected.

“I would not be considering this if I didn’t think everything was working well there at the Superior Court level,” Rohrer said.

Misdemeanor cases are adjudicated in district courts by judges who can impose fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences of up to one year.

Civil cases and traffic infractions are also heard in district courts.

The District Court 2 position will pay 60 percent, or $98,588, of the full-time judicial position, which will pay $164,313 as of Sept. 1.

Superior court judges will make $172,571 as of Sept. 1.

Rohrer is on the Peninsula College board of trustees, is a former president of the Forks Chamber of Commerce and served on the Forks Community Hospital Foundation board.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Western Washington University in 1980 and a law degree from Willamette University College of Law in 1985.

Rohrer has been a private practice attorney and was manager and lead attorney for the state Attorney General’s Office in Port Angeles from 1991-2001.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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