Judge Woolard's medical leave strains court

She has been out since Nov. 20 due to medication issues

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 
photoDiane Woolard, Clark County Superior Court judge

An extended medical leave by a judge has left a shortage of judicial officers and a scheduling predicament in Clark County Superior Court.

Clark County Superior Judge Diane Woolard has been on a six-week medical leave since Nov. 20 because side effects from a new prescription for her epilepsy were interfering with her work, according to Woolard's attorney. It's unclear when she'll return to the bench.

The short staffing "makes it difficult to meet the needs of our caseload," said presiding Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson. The court already had lost one Superior Court commissioner due to recent budget cuts, Johnson said. Court commissioners can substitute for judges during some, but not all, proceedings.

Woolard's cases have been reassigned to the court's other nine judges, who already have their own cases to hear, Johnson said.

Superior Court handles all felony cases, divorces and any civil cases that are not small claims.

"Our schedules are established months in advance, so it is a scramble to find coverage for another judge's schedule," Johnson wrote in an email to The Columbian. "Unfortunately, although we do our best, this results in some confusion and delay for attorneys and litigants who have cases that need to be resolved by our court."

The situation may continue for up to another 12 weeks, said Woolard's attorney, Stephen Brischetto of Portland.

"At present, the process of adjusting medications has not been completed, and she continues to experience some side effects," Brischetto wrote in an email to The Columbian. "Judge Woolard is continuing to work with her physician to complete the adjustment of medications and should have more information in January about how long this process will take."

She hired Brischetto to communicate with the Superior Court about her absence, Brischetto said.

He said that Woolard is "strongly motivated" to return to her position on the bench. She may do so on a part-time basis at first and gradually return to her normal schedule, he said.

Woolard, 68, receives her full salary and benefits during her leave. As a Superior Court judge, her salary is $148,800 per year.

She was appointed to the bench in 2000 by Gov. Gary Locke and was elected in 2004. She was re-elected in 2008 and again last November for another four-year term.

She had a brain aneurysm about 15 years ago, which may have caused her epilepsy, she said. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures and can cause changes in behavior, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courtshttp://facebook.com/ColTrendsparis.achen@columbian.com.