By editorial board • 

Selecting new member of bench rare and important opportunity

Yamhill County voters will decide this year who becomes the next judge in Oregon’s 25th Judicial District. And that’s the way it should be.

Presiding Judge Ronald Stone has decided to give up Position 2, which he has held since his victory over Cal Tichenor in a spirited race in 2000. To his credit, he has decided to  complete his current term instead of depart mid-term and allow the seat to be filled by appointment rather than election.

Too often, other elected officials deciding its time to hang it up retire early. That leaves the succession choice to a sitting official subject to all sorts of behind-the-scenes lobbying and grants favored insiders an important leg up.

We commend Stone for allowing democracy to prevail and letting the people decide, as they did when they placed him on the bench initially.

Filing remains open until March 6, and we already have three candidates: Jennifer Chapman, Janmarie Dielschneider and Mark Lawrence. Collectively, they have specialized at one time or another in just about every aspect of law one could imagine. Individually, they offer unique backgrounds, resumes and philosophies, which can be vetted by voters in the campaign leading up to the May 15 primary — and November general election, should a runoff be required.

Incumbents enjoy a statistical advantage in every election. Even though appointees must subject themselves to the electorate at the next opportunity, they automatically become odds-on favorites. The incumbent advantage looms even larger in judicial races, which is why sitting judges rarely face challenges.

When elected officials resign early, they get a chance to exert influence on who will take their place — unwarranted and undemocratic influence, in our view. Oftentimes, that’s why they do it.

The electorate should take advantage of the upcoming opportunity. It should ask itself what it most values in its local judges. It should also consider the makeup of the rest of the bench, to determine what style and background would be prove most complementary.

Selecting a judge may not be as intriguing as choosing a commissioner, legislator or governor, but its impact is equal.

We look forward to meeting with the judge candidates and acknowledging the important role the eventual winner will assume. We hope you do the same.

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