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There's a new judge on the bench

Tualatin municipal court welcomes new judge pro tempore

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Attorney Brian Starns has practiced criminal law for more than 15 years. He was recently sworn in as Tualatins newest municipal judge pro tempore.Tualatin area residents fighting a traffic or parking citation in municipal court may just see a new face on the bench: Brian Starns, a longtime criminal law defense attorney who was sworn in as municipal judge pro tempore on May 16. He will preside in place of other full-time municipal court judges as the need arises — “like a relief pitcher,” Starns explained.

For the past 14 years, Starns has practiced with Morris, Smith, Starns, Raschio & Sullivan PC, operating out of the firm’s Hood River office. One of his partners is the municipal court’s presiding judge, Jack Morris, who recommended Starns for the position.

For the Nebraska native, the opportunity was an honor — and a welcome chance to view court proceedings from a new perspective.

“If you do what I do for so long, whether you’re a prosecutor or defense attorney, you only get to appreciate one side of the process,” Starns said. “One of my other partners, John Olson, is now a circuit court judge in Hood River. What I gleaned from him is what a neat experience it is to step outside of your normal role and play a different part in the process. When I was approached about (serving as municipal judge pro tempore), I was really enthused.”

Although he began his career as a prosecutor in Lincoln, Neb., while in law school, he has strictly worked as a criminal defense attorney occasionally focused on juvenile law, since moving to Oregon in 1998.

Reflecting on his shift from prosecutor to defense attorney, Starns said, “I think one of the biggest distinctions is, when you’re a prosecutor, you have a responsibility to a large group of people, whether it’s a city or a state, because you’re certainly helping to enforce those laws. But as a defense attorney, your only obligation is to one person.”

That’s not to say that criminal defense is a solitary or insular field, he added.

“One of the best things I think a defense attorney does is to educate the public about the importance of the individual,” Starns explained. “There’s a greater good there, by looking out for individuals. It’s somewhat of a difficult thing to intellectualize, or to rationally explain to another person these really abstract ideas of personal liberties and rights, and upholding for the rest of society those rights. In my experience, people don’t really understand that until they themselves or a family member are brought into the system. Then it becomes much more of a personal journey, so to speak.”

Starns came to Oregon, and to his firm, seeking a change of pace. He now resides in Portland with his wife, Shanta Schriever, a women’s health nurse practitioner whom he met in college but reconnected with after his move to the Pacific Northwest. The couple has a 3-year-old son.

Although he has not served as a judge before, Starns recalled his days as a debate coach and judge.

“You learn to listen, and that role reversal, that role change is something I think is so lacking if you only do one element of criminal law or type of law. You get to sit back and just listen.”

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