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Circuit Court: Vogt.

Byline: The Register-Guard

It's been 14 years since Lane County voters last saw a ballot with more than one candidate for a judicial position.

Based on the caliber of the candidates vying in the May 16 primary election for the seat left vacant by Judge Bryan Hodges' retirement, voters should hope contested races become the norm.

Four candidates are running for Position 14 on the court in a race that seems destined for a November runoff, given the overall strength of the field and the extensive campaigns being waged by the candidates.

That's what happened in the last contested judicial election in 1992, when five candidates competed to replace retiring District Court Judge Frank Alderson. Lauren Holland won that runoff and remains on the bench as a circuit court judge (the district court was combined with the circuit courts eight years ago).

The candidates are James Chaney, Debra Vogt, Alan Leiman and Beverly Anderson. Of those four, Chaney, Leiman and Vogt have impressive resumes that would make any of the three a sound addition to the bench. Anderson, a latecomer to the legal profession, is an intriguing candidate. But she lacks the breadth of experience necessary to serve on a court that each year handles 34,000 cases ranging from small claims to death penalty murder cases.

Anderson, 54, earned her law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law, which she attended as a single parent. Currently in private practice, she previously worked as an in-house counsel and chief financial officer for an advertising agency. She says her life experiences, analytical skills and temperament would make up for her lack of courtroom experience if she's elected. That's probably true, but Anderson's opponents also have their similarly impressive personal and intellectual qualities, as well as extensive legal backgrounds that she cannot match.

Chaney is a 48-year-old Eugene lawyer with 23 years of experience in civil cases and arbitration. He has served on the Oregon State Bar House of Delegates and the state Bench/Bar Commission on Professionalism. He says he's running because he's a "true believer" in the justice system, and wants to repay that system and the community for a long, rewarding run in private practice.

In his public appearances, Chaney has strongly emphasized the importance of judicial ethics, pledging to accept no outside campaign contributions and promising to complete his full term on the bench, even if offered appointment to a higher court. While it's tempting to believe such tactics may be a calculated effort to take advantage of the flap over Judge Lyle Velure's unseemly and short-lived hand-off of his judgeship to a chosen successor, Chaney's commitment to ethics seems genuine and refreshing.

Leiman says he has the broadest background of any candidate in the field, and it's hard to argue with that assertion. The 43-year-old graduate of University of Miami Law School has been an assistant Eugene Municipal Court judge since 2002. Before that, he was the city's chief prosecutor, a defense and civil trial lawyer and a public defender in Florida's Miami-Dade County. He also has served as a volunteer judge for the west Eugene and Bethel teen courts since 1998, and is a board member of Lane County Community Mediation Services.

Vogt is a 37-year-old deputy Lane County district attorney and a senior prosecutor. A 1994 graduate of Willamette University School of Law, she clerked for two years for Lane County Circuit Judge Maurice Merten before joining the district attorney's office. As a prosecutor, she has handled a number of high-profile cases, including that of Robert Earl Smith, the Eugene man who was sentenced to 53 years in prison in 2004 for producing child porn. She also prosecuted Len John Allen, a repeat offender and serial rapist who was sentenced in 2000 to 100 years in prison.

While both Leiman and Chaney are excellent candidates, Vogt has a significant edge on the opposition, and that's the full decade she has spent prosecuting the full range of crimes that occur in this county. Better than any of her opponents, Vogt understands the dynamics of not only the circuit court, but also the region's beleaguered public safety system. Vogt has firsthand experience with overwhelming case loads, judicial budget cuts, underfunded public safety programs - and, most importantly, the need for judges to overcome those challenges, while maintaining an exemplary temperament and an unswerving focus on the rule of law.

Vogt has gathered an impressive list of endorsements, including Presiding Circuit Court Judge Mary Ann Bearden, four other circuit judges and Oregon Court of Appeals Chief Judge David Brewer.

In a judicial race that gives voters a wealth of attractive options, Debra Vogt is the best choice.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; She's best candidate in an impressive field
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 16, 2006
Words:780
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