Four apply to replace Branford on the bench

LINCOLN COUNTY — Four members of the bar association in Lincoln County, including three repeat contenders for the bench, asked Gov. Kate Brown to appoint them to the Circuit Court seat that will be vacated by Judge Thomas O. Branford at the end of this month.

Branford informed the governor on Jan. 6 of his intent to retire effective Feb. 28 after 32 years on the Lincoln County bench, including eight as presiding judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit. Brown will appoint someone to replace him until next year, when whomever is chosen must win election to keep their seat. The governor’s office accepted applications for the position through Feb. 1.

According to the Oregon State Bar, four applied by the deadline — Russell Baldwin, Amanda Benjamin, Brian Gardner and Kenneth Park. Only Gardner has not previously sought a Lincoln County judgeship by appointment or election. 

Benjamin, Lincoln County Circuit Court’s contracted judge pro tem, campaigned for election to the bench during last year’s General Election and lost by 143 votes. The winner, Judge Marcia Buckley, was already serving as judge after Brown appointed her to replace retiring Judge Paulette Sanders in January 2020. Benjamin, Baldwin and Park also all applied for that appointment.

Park, a deputy district attorney since 2015, applied for appointment as district attorney following the resignation of Michelle Branam in September 2019, but Brown passed over him and two other applicants in favor of Jonathan Cable. He filed to run against Cable in the May 2020 election and appeared on the ballot, but a month prior to Election Day, Park publicly asked voters to support the appointed chief prosecutor against Lanee Danforth, who ultimately won the race.

Baldwin has campaigned for circuit court judge twice before, most recently losing to incumbent Judge Sheryl Bachart in May 2020. He’s been an attorney in private practice since 1989, and since 1993 has been a sole practitioner in Lincoln City.

Gardner was brought in as Cable’s chief deputy last year, having worked with him during a prior stint at the district attorney’s office. He left the office after Danforth took over in January and returned to private practice in Newport. He previously practiced in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Liz Merah, press secretary for the governor’s office, said Brown hopes to make her appointment “sometime this spring.” 

Lincoln County Clerk Dana Jenkins said candidates will be able to file to run against the appointee, whoever it may be, until March 8, 2022. If more than one challenger files, the race will appear on the May 2022 ballot to decide the top two vote-getters for a runoff in November. The race will not appear on the ballot until November if two or fewer candidates run.


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