Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Dec. 2, 2020

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7 apply to fill seat of retiring Judge Swanger

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
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Chad Sleight
Chad Sleight Photo Gallery

Seven candidates have applied to fill the vacancy left by Clark County District Court Judge James Swanger when he retires at the end of February.

Former Superior Court Judge Roger Bennett, attorneys Brent Boger, Louis Byrd Jr., John Lutgens, Zeed Meyer and Chad Sleight, and District Court Commissioner Kristen Parcher submitted applications to the Board of County Councilors by the Jan. 17 deadline.

The council is vetting the candidates and plans to choose a successor by Feb. 14.

The Clark County Bar Association is conducting a preference poll of the candidates for the county council to review. Those results will be released to the public Feb. 8.

• Former Superior Court judge: Bennett, 67, of Brush Prairie serves as a municipal court judge in Battle Ground, where he hears misdemeanor cases and traffic tickets. The part-time gig allows him to continue his solo practice in criminal and civil law.

For the last five years, he has additionally served as a pro tem judge in Clark County District Court. A pro tem judge fills in when the sitting judge is unavailable.

Bennett has been an attorney since 1976. He obtained his law degree from the University of Puget Sound Law School. Bennett served 14 years as a Clark County deputy prosecutor — some of that time as chief deputy prosecutor — and prosecuted dozens of murder cases, including child-killer Westley Allan Dodd, who was later put to death.

He became a Superior Court judge in 1990 and retired in September 2011.

“I’m the most experienced (of the candidates) and have the broadest knowledge of what it means to be a judge. I’ve been doing this job for many years,” Bennett said. “Being a judge is the greatest job in the world. I like serving the community.”

He decided to apply for the vacancy, he said, because he missed working for the county judicial system.

• Assistant Vancouver city attorney: Boger, 60, of Washougal has been practicing law for 31 years, primarily in civil practice, and has experience in just about every area of municipal law. He also sits on the Washougal City Council.

In his current position, he advises city officials on numerous issues, such as land development, planning, finance and general municipal government law. He has been with the Vancouver City Attorney’s Office since 1999.

Boger earned his law degree in 1985 from the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, Calif. And he worked as a private practice attorney for six years in California, handling business, environment, personal injury and products liability litigation, primarily for large corporations. He also has worked as a resident attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights advocacy group.

“I applied for the position because I’m a very experienced lawyer, and along with that, I have some appreciation for the impact of the court on local government,” Boger said. “I’ve practiced in courtrooms from San Diego to Seattle and in Washington, D.C. I’ve seen how courtrooms are managed in many places, and there are many ways to improve the District Court here.”

Boger is on the boards for the Friends of the Elder Justice Center and Mobile Healthcare Providers Northwest, and is involved with the Camas Washougal Economic Development Association and Downtown Washougal Association.

• Criminal defense attorney: Byrd, 59, of Vancouver for 23 years has run a private practice focused on criminal and civil proceedings for both felony and misdemeanor cases, as well as divorce and child custody. He obtained his law degree in 1989 from Willamette University School of Law.

Byrd is a member of a number of organizations, including the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Black Lawyers Association and Clark County Bar Association. He is also the president of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Clark County, according to his application materials.

He served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Washington from 1990 to 1994.

“I have applied for the District Court judge’s position because of my long-standing desire to serve and work with the citizens of this community within the context of judicial process and procedure. I would add needed diversity to the bench and believe that I am uniquely qualified for the position of District Court judge. Considerations of the community, the victim, the accused (or parties to civil proceedings), the prosecution and the law will guide my judicial deliberations,” Byrd wrote in an email.

Byrd was also named in the Top 100 Lawyers of 2016 by the National Black Lawyers Association, according to his r?sum?.

• Criminal defense attorney: Lutgens, 60, of Lake Shore has been licensed to practice law in both Oregon and Washington since 1992 and 1993, respectively. He primarily focuses on criminal defense, personal injury, estate planning and probate, and has been involved in the community for more than 20 years.

Lutgens obtained his law degree in 1992 from Willamette University College of Law. He has practiced law solo since 2005, and currently has a private-retain practice. Lutgens is a former indigent defense attorney for the cities of Woodland and Battle Ground. He continues to provide services for juveniles in Clark County.

“The most important thing to me about being a judge is the ability and willingness to make sure each party before you is being fully heard, feeling like they’ve had their opportunity to have their day in court,” Lutgens said. “I think I’m well-qualified for that because I’ve practiced law since 1994 before the Superior and District Court benches. I’ve admired many of the judges, including Swanger, … and watched their careers. I want to take their best practices to the District Court bench. I feel I can bring fairness to the bench as a result of my 25 years of experience.”

Lutgens is a member of the Multnomah County, Ore., Bar Association and Clark County Bar Association. He previously served three years on the local bar association’s board of trustees. Lutgens has also coached several area youth soccer teams, and been involved with Clark County Special Olympics Washington.

• Criminal defense attorney: Meyer, 36, born and raised in Vancouver, has been practicing criminal defense for nearly seven years, the majority of that time with Vancouver Defenders.

“As a lifelong member of this community, I think that District Court offers an opportunity to facilitate positive changes in community members’ lives, especially those of lesser means who may be struggling or need extra help or guidance,” said Meyers, whose majority of cases are in District Court. “I’m familiar with the workings of the court and have identified areas where some change can be beneficial. It’s a comfortable environment for me because I am in there so much.”

Meyer earned his law degree in 2009 from Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Clark County Bar Association and Washington Defender Association.

He is also raising three children.

• District Court commissioner: Parcher, 40, of Brush Prairie, who is also a Clark County native, has practiced law for 13 years; six of those years have been on the bench.

“I’ve essentially been doing the job for the last six years. Out of all the candidates, I’m most prepared for the high volume that we have in District Court, and my work in indigent defense has prepared me for the type of people who are appearing in front of me. In addition to being qualified, I really have a passion for District Court and like working at the misdemeanor level because there is a lot of opportunity to get people resources,” she said, such as mental health and drug and alcohol treatment.

She previously worked for Vancouver Defenders providing indigent defense services and was a family law practitioner at a private firm.

Parcher earned her law degree in 2004 from the University of Oregon School of Law.

She sat two terms on the board for the Volunteer Lawyers Program, and served as secretary and president. She is a member of the local George and Donald Simpson American Inn of Court and has served in various board positions. She additionally served as treasurer for the Clark County Bar Association Family Law Section and volunteered staffing family law advice clinics. Recently, Parcher joined the Cascadia Technical Academy (formerly the Skills Center) Legal/Medical Office Applications Advisory Committee, according to her application materials.

If Parcher were to be appointed, her position would become vacant, and it would be up to the judges to decide whether to open it up to applicants or appoint someone, she said.

• Criminal defense attorney: Sleight, 39, of Camas, a lifelong resident of Clark County, has practiced law since 2002, when he was a licensed legal intern. He obtained his law degree in 2003 from Willamette University College of Law and passed the Washington State Bar Exam the following year.

Sleight worked for Vancouver Defenders from 2002 to 2005, before spending 10 years with the law office of Wheeler, Montgomery & Boyd as a criminal defense attorney. Sleight now runs his own practice.

He is currently a prosecuting attorney in the cities of Battle Ground, Ridgefield and La Center, where he has handled misdemeanor cases since 2009, and has been serving as a pro tem judge in Clark County District Court since 2013. A pro tem judge fills in when the sitting judge is unavailable.

“I’ve applied for this position because over the last four years serving as a pro tem judge in District Court, I absolutely love the work and think I have done a good job,” Sleight said. “I’m a strong candidate because when you get to work as a prosecutor and defense attorney each week, you get to look at cases from both sides, which is a good trait for a judge to have. This experience serving as a pro tem judge in District Court makes me ready, essentially, from Day One to handle the job.”

Sleight is also the president of the Clark County Bar Association. He served as vice president last year and first joined the board of trustees in 2014.