Retired judge returning to courtroom

Ex-prosecutor joins firm specializing in elder abuse law

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Roger Bennett prosecuted some prominent criminal cases as a chief deputy prosecutor in the 1980s.

He went on to preside over 700 trials in his 20 years on the bench.

But there’s something he hasn’t done — something that’s drawing him back to law following his retirement this month: He’s never been a partner of a private law firm.

That changed last week. Stepping down as a Clark County Superior Court judge on Sept. 1, Bennett, 61, has joined the Vancouver law firm Dimitrov & Senescu, making it Dimitrov, Senescu & Bennett.

Dimitrov, Senescu & Bennett specializes in elder abuse law. Lawyers are hired to step in civilly to collect if a vulnerable adult has been bilked out of money. The firm also handles other kinds of elder mistreatment, such as neglect and abuse. The firm is among only a few niche law firms in Clark County.

Bennett said that when he decided to leave his post as a Superior Court judge, he asked around about law firms that could best suit his interests and expertise. Dimitrov & Senescu was the best fit, he said.

“It’s a fascinating area of law,” Bennett said, sitting behind his new desk at the firm at 1409 Franklin St., near downtown Vancouver. “This law firm is cutting-edge” in that it’s tackling an area of law that has only recently emerged.

Law partner Jessica Dimitrov said having Bennett join the firm is a great feather in the firm’s cap. “He commands so much respect from the bar,” she said. “Having that platform to help vulnerable adults is amazing.”

Bennett said he will perform mediation and arbitration work as well as taking on his own caseload of elder-abuse cases.

He will be the only judge hereabouts to return to the courtroom after retirement. James Ladley, former Superior Court judge, works as a mediator, and John Skimas, another former Superior Court judge, is listed as handling dispute resolution cases. But neither works cases in court.

Bennett began his career as a deputy prosecutor at the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office in 1975. In 1981, he was promoted to chief criminal deputy prosecutor. In 1984, he was promoted again to chief deputy prosecutor, the position he held when he helped try one of the most high-profile cases in Clark County history: the case of child-killer Westley Allan Dodd.

He became a judge in 1990.

Bennett said that while he enjoyed a full career as a prosecutor and judge, he was drawn to “that third side of law that I never practiced”: private law.

He hopes to bring his extensive trial experience to the firm. “I know what judges want to hear. I know what judges don’t want to hear,” Bennett said. “I want to participate in the legal system at the standard that this firm is known for.”

Laura McVicker: http://www.twitter.com/col_courts; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.; 360-735-4516.