(Updated: adding video, comments from Deschutes County court administrator)
Gov. Kate Brown seeking applicants for two judges to join Circuit Court
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Deschutes County Circuit Court will be adding two more members soon, and efforts have begun to make room for them at the county courthouse, even before they are chosen.
Gov. Kate Brown announced last Friday that she is accepting applications for the two new legislatively approved judge positions, with a submission deadline of August 23.
Right now, there are seven judges on the circuit court. It's been almost 20 years since a new judge has been added for the fast-growing county.
Presiding Judge Wells Ashby told NewsChannel 21 it's an important investment for the county and will help move cases along quicker, tackling a backlog in the courts worsened by COVID-19 issues. Ashby says he expects interest for the two positions among area attorneys to be high.
The addition of new judges will make for speedier trials, helping keep up with crime and population growth.
Ashby says there are certain areas they're excited to see move more quickly through the court system, one being child dependency cases.
He said in a statement, "We certainly know we have some need in the child dependency area and on our trial calendar, we're looking at tackling those needs immediately as soon as we get these folks on board. We're really looking forward to it."
The trial court administrator for Deschutes County, Angie Curtis, says the additions will benefit the community.
"We are going to be able to add one additional trial docket, which will increase the number of cases that can go to trial more quickly, which will improve access to timely justice for the public." Curtis said.
Once chosen, the judges are expected to start this winter.
On top of the pandemic slowing things down, the courthouse has been remodeling the courtrooms for accessibility-related issues, which limits available space for court proceedings.
However, Curtis says they've still found ways to hold trials, such as several held at the county fairgrounds in Redmond.
"We have obviously not been able to use the courtrooms as they're being remodeled, so we've been able to hold those proceedings in other areas of the courthouse." Curtis told NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday. "We've also had a partnership through the pandemic with Deschutes County and the Deschutes County Fairgrounds."
"We've been able to conduct 12-person jury trials out there, which gives us some additional courtroom space to be able to give us some alternate space for the remodel, but also gives us space to keep case parties, jurors, and the public safe during the pandemic," she said.
Trials will also continue at the fairgrounds until October, Curtis said.
The remodeling is solely to provide more accessibility within the courts for people with disabilities. It's expected to be finished next week.
Curtis added that officials are looking to expand the courthouse in the near future, to better accommodate the added judges.