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Attorneys vie for Justice Court bench

Veteran trial attorneys Dan Cross and Kevin Kelley seek judgeship

When the electoral dust settles on May 17, either Dan Cross or Kevin Kelley will be Washington County’s first new justice of the peace in a quarter century.

The veteran trial attorneys are running for a judgeship that isn’t in the spotlight but quite often presides over the first and only time many residents will ever go to court.CROSSKELLEY

The Justice Court, located in Beaverton, handles tens of thousands of lower-level matters such as traffic infractions, renter evictions and small claims cases every year. Justices of the peace also traditionally perform some marriage ceremonies.

The winner of the May election will take over in January for longtime justice Jim Shartel, who has presided over the court since his appointment in 1991.

Shartel again filed to run for the office but was foiled by a provision in the state constitution that forces judges to retire at the end of the year in which they turn 75, an age Shartel will reach this fall, before voters decide whether to nix mandatory retirement ages for judges.

The Justice Court’s district includes most but not all of Washington County. Incorporated Hillsboro and a small part of incorporated Portland inside the county aren’t included. Voters inside the district will begin receiving their mail-in ballots this week.

Both candidates to replace Shartel have tried cases in his courtroom over the years.

Cross, 51, of Beaverton has largely worked in criminal defense and in juvenile cases during his 23 years as an attorney, most of them spent in private practice in Washington County. His law office is in Hillsboro.

He is well-connected in legal and political circles — Gov. Kate Brown provided a quote used on his campaign mailer — and is a past president of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

“I have a deep belief that we need excellent individuals to be part of our bench,” Cross said.

“It’s just critical that we have a judge (who is able to preside over all manner of cases) in a fundamentally fair manner.”

So far, Cross is the only one to roll out a significant campaign, with this week’s mailer and a modest run of lawn signs. In addition to numerous donations, Cross also gave $1,200 and loaned $10,000 to his campaign.

Kelley, 47, of Lake Oswego worked as a prosecutor in the Washington County District Office for just over a decade before going into private practice in 2014. His office is in Beaverton.

“I think I have a pretty good grasp of the legal issues that arise over there,” Kelley said. “It is an opportunity to show justice being done in the community, for the community.”

Kelley said this week he is still deciding how much money to spend on the campaign.

“I’m not going to out-raise him,” he said. “That’s just the way it goes.”

It was Kelley who took Washington County to court to force Shartel off the ballot.

“I’m willing to stand up for the constitution and take on powerful people when needed,” he said. “I think the county needs people who are willing to do that.”