The Clark County council on Tuesday evening appointed criminal defense attorney Chad Sleight to succeed retiring District Court Judge James Swanger on the bench.
Sleight, a lifelong resident of Clark County, has been serving as a pro tem judge in District Court since 2013. A pro tem judge fills in when the sitting judge is unavailable.
“He had great enthusiasm,” Council Chair Marc Boldt said of Sleight’s interview with the council. “He seemed to really have a little more empathy for the people in front of (the judges). He is the kind of person who will bring change to the court, if we need it, in terms of budget and policy.”
The council voted unanimously to appoint Sleight, citing his varied courtroom experience and passion for the law, according to a news release about the appointment.
Sleight, 39, of Camas runs his own criminal defense practice and prosecutes misdemeanor cases in the cities of Battle Ground, Ridgefield and La Center. He earned his law degree in 2003 from Willamette University College of Law, and worked for the Vancouver Defenders law firm from 2002 to 2005. He spent 10 years with the law office of Wheeler, Montgomery & Boyd. He is the current president of the Clark County Bar Association.
“I’m in shock,” Sleight said after learning of his appointment. “I’m just so humbled they chose me. I finished in the middle of the (Clark County Bar Association’s preference poll). On paper, my résumé is pretty good because of my legal experience and work as (judge) pro tem. I hoped this day would come someday.”
Sleight was one of four candidates the council interviewed for the office, which becomes vacant March 1. Swanger is retiring after 16 years on the District Court bench. Sleight will have to run for election in November 2018 to retain his seat.
The other finalists were District Court Commissioner Kristen Parcher, retired Superior Court Judge Roger Bennett and Assistant Vancouver City Attorney Brent Boger.
Boldt said the council struggled with its decision because the three other finalists are also exceptional candidates who possess great leadership skills. Each has something different to offer, he said.
“(Sleight) is very connected to the people in front of him and accepting of change in the future,” Boldt said during the motion to appoint Sleight. “He’s passionate, and knows a good deal about the therapeutic courts and is accepting that there may be change even with that.”
Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Chris Horne prepared a list of questions for councilors to ask the candidates. Boldt said the questions touched on what issues the court will go through in the next five years and policies that can be changed to improve the court. There was also discussion about indigent defense, as well as the therapeutic courts and their relationship to treatment and to Superior Court. The council asked candidates what qualities they think a judge should possess.
“I want to keep putting the same effort into (District Court), just in a different role,” Sleight said. “I’m not running in to change the place. I just want to try to do a good job.”
Sleight said he still has clients and a contract with the city of Battle Ground that he needs to sort out before taking the bench. “My plan is not to leave anyone high and dry,” he said.
District Court judges handle misdemeanor cases and infractions — the majority of which are traffic-related — as well as small claims and civil lawsuits involving amounts up to $100,000. They also oversee a number of alternative programs, such as therapeutic courts for substance abuse and mental illness, night court and driver’s license restoration. The judges are paid an annual salary of $157,932.