Forks District Court Judge selection process questioned

Forks residents are questioning why no one from the West End is on a committee to select a new district court judge for Forks.

Clallam County District Court II Judge Erik Rohrer is packing up his personal belongings from his District Court office located within the Forks City Hall building. 

Rohrer, 54, was elected in the general election of November 6 with about 55 percent of the countywide vote to serve on the Clallam County Superior Court to take the place of retiring Superior Court Judge Ken Williams.

His soon-to-be-vacant district court judge position needs to be filled by an appointee until a new district court judge is elected in the 2014 general election, according to Clallam County administrative rules.

Clallam County has decided to use a committee of three to select the temporary judge for the Forks district court. The committee is made up of Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones, District Court 1 Judge Rick Porter and incoming Human Resources Director Rich Sill.

A complaint about limiting the selection committee to just three Port Angeles-based county administrators was voiced at the Wednesday, Nov. 28 Forks Chamber of Commerce meeting by Forks-based Realtor Don Grafstrom. 

Grafstrom and others, including Supreme Court Justice Susan Ownens, say when Rohrer was selected as an appointee to the Forks District Court post a significantly larger committee made the decision, and that the committee included West End residents. 

Owens was elected to the State Supreme court in 2000. She served for 19 years as the District Court II Judge in Forks. She also, for five years, served as Chief Judge for the Quileute Tribe's tribal court.
Rohrer succeeded Owens in 2001 as District Court Judge in Forks.

Owens remarked on the situation in an online comments section located below a Peninsula Daily News report on Rohrer’s departure from Forks published Tuesday, Nov. 27. 

“Why does it seem odd to me that no one from the West End or the Clallam Bar Association or the Prosecutor’s Office or Public Defense Bar are represented,” Owens commented. She opined that the process was lacking in transparency, and said she feared the Clallam County District II Court in Forks “is going to disappear.”

Keeping the Clallam County District Court II open in Forks has become a contentious issue over the past several years. The budget for the court has been significantly reduced with a loss of staff. Outgoing District Judge Rohrer and his staff have trimmed expenses and have managed to keep the court open despite the budget cuts.

However, Jones and others have discussed possibly moving the functions of the West End’s only district court to Port Angeles to consolidate court efforts to reduce county spending. This would close down the Forks district court. Such a move, local residents say would require West End residents to spend a full day to travel to Port Angeles to handle a traffic ticket or to take care of a simple legal process instead of just driving to the nearby court in Forks.

Rohrer is scheduled to be sworn in the first week in January.

A classified display ad in this week’s issue of the Forum advertises the position. The closing date for applicants is Friday, Dec. 7. The new judge would be at work immediately following the Christmas Day holiday.

According to county rules, a new District Court II judge can live outside of the West End, but must reside within Clallam County, at least until a new judge is elected for Forks in the fall 2014 election.
An elected Clallam County District Court II judge must live on the West End if elected.

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