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Age requirement ends judge's candidacy

Judge Shartel turns 75 before an amendment might end Oregon Constitution's mandatory retirement age

SHARTELKELLEYThe Oregon Constitution and a quirk in timing apparently will put an end to the 25-year career of Judge James “Jim” Shartel, Washington County’s justice of the peace.

A Washington County Circuit Court judge last week agreed with one of Shartel’s would-be challengers that Shartel is not eligible to run in this May’s primary election because he will turn 75 before the next term begins.

The state’s constitution contains a long-held requirement that forces judges to retire at the end of the calendar year in which they reach age 75, which in Shartel’s case would be Dec. 31 this year.

Ironically, voters will have the opportunity to remove the mandatory age retirements with a constitutional amendment the Legislature has placed on this November’s General Election, but that vote would come too late for Shartel.

In Washington County’s Justice Court, located on Southwest Murray Boulevard in Beaverton, Judge Shartel presides primarily over lower-level cases including traffic violations and small claims civil cases. He also conducts marriage ceremonies for a fee.

Kevin Kelley, one of two attorneys running for Shartel’s seat, filed the request for judicial review of Washington County's decision to allow Shartel to run again.

Circuit Court Judge Andrew Erwin agreed with Kelley's contention that Shartel simply is ineligible under current state law to appear on the ballot or in the voter’s pamphlet.

Kelley said he has no ill will toward Shartel and respects the judge's work.

However, Kelley believes the risk for voters is that they very well might elect a judge who is ineligible to serve the term, and that the position would be filled as a political appointee. Shartel first took the job as an appointee in 1991 and Kelley said no new justice of the peace has been selected by Washington County voters since at least the 1970s, due to appointments made between elections.

"My position is that voters should know who's qualified to run at the time they vote," Kelley said.

Kelley said such decisions must be based on current law, not hinged on what voters decide in eight months.

"You can't make those kinds of decisions based on what the law might be," he said. "That's a pretty slippery slope."

The case was heard March 3 and Erwin signed his order the next day.

Washington County Counsel Alan Rappleyea argued the case in favor of Shartel’s right to run again for the office after county elections officials allowed the incumbent to remain on the ballot.

Mickie Kawai, manager of the elections division, said officials studied the issue before deciding it was fair to allow Shartel to run for the office given that voters might toss out the age restriction before it would otherwise force Shartel to resign.

“This was unique,” said Kawai, who said the constitutional restriction only became an issue after Shartel filed for another six-year term. “I’m not going to spend a lot of energy on what-ifs if it doesn’t happen.”

But given Erwin’s ruling, Kawai’s office late last week removed Shartel from the list of approved candidates, barring some sort of appeal.

The County Counsel’s office does not plan to appeal Erwin’s decision, spokesman Philip Bransford said. Shartel did not return phone calls for comment by press time.

With Shartel apparently out, the process to choose a justice of the peace becomes a two-man race, which makes it likely the race will be settled in May because one candidate is likely to get the required majority of votes.

Kelley, a former deputy district attorney in Washington County who now works in private practice from a Beaverton office, will face Dan Cross, a longtime defense attorney with an office in Hillsboro.

Kelley, 47, who lives in Lake Oswego, said serving as justice of the peace “is an opportunity to show justice being done in the county, (and) in a small way, make the county safer.”

Cross, 51, who currently lives in Aloha but soon will move into Beaverton, said it was inappropriate for him as a judicial candidate to wade into the age restriction issue, with which he was not involved.

“I know it sounds corny, but I have a deep belief in a system of justice that demands fairness,” Cross said.

Both attorneys have extensive trial experience, including working cases before Shartel.

“He has had a very fine tenure in that role,” Cross said of Shartel. “I have appeared in that courtroom many times over the years as an attorney.”

The Justice Court’s judge earns an annual salary current set at $106,660, Bransford said.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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