Presiding Judge Thomas KohlWashington County Circuit Court
I enjoyed my meeting with the Washington County Presiding Court judge on an oddly sunny afternoon. He had just finished a probation violation case in which the defendant is not fully complying but is still trying. Judge Kohl gave him another chance but made it clear that it was his last chance.
The judge first attended college on a football scholarship. His undergraduate career was interrupted in 1968 for a couple of years when he left school and worked with the Peace Corps in India on water irrigation and open wells. Judge Kohl later graduated from University of Kentucky in 1972 with a degree in English Literature. Then he was off to the University of Toledo for law school, where he graduated in1975. The judge practiced as a private attorney and a district attorney in Ohio before moving to Oregon.
Judge Kohl came to Oregon in 1982, drawn by the state's beauty and its people. He predominantly practiced civil law, partnering with David Frost in Hillsboro; was city attorney for Vernonia for 14 years and assistant city attorney for Forest Grove for 5-6 years. Judge Kohl practiced employment law before taking the bench.
Judge Kohl was appointed to the bench by Governor Kitzhaber in 1997 and has been the presiding court judge since 2005. He has been a very active presiding court judge. He refers to himself as the "IRS" judge, the (Inventory Reduction Specialist judge). His weekly dockets include criminal pleas and sentencing so that the other judges have time for their heavy dockets. Washington County has the honor to boast of the highest percentage of cleared criminal cases in the State of Oregon.
During his tenure as presiding court judge, the mental health and drug courts have taken off and grown. The drug court has expanded to 55 defendants and is at maximum capacity most of the time. The mental health court has helped the mentally ill in Washington County to stay out of the criminal justice system.
Also, the early case resolution program was created and has welcomed visitors from California and Florida sister courts to review its structure for application in their own states. According to Judge Kohl, the program has been working well due to the high level of cooperation between the district attorney's office and the defense bar and could not work without that level of professional cooperation.
On the civil side, cases are moving through the court system in a juridical manner, with, among other improvements, the addition of Judge Garner's Friday settlement docket. There were 100 civil cases resolved in the last two years and 90% of all civil cases are completed within 8-9 months of the filing date.
There are other changes to look forward to as Judge Kohl is seeking to start a turn-in docket. If a defendant had a warrant issued for a failure to appear, the defendant could schedule a time to turn him or herself in and resolve the case at the same time with use of counsel, eliminating the use of police and jail resources. Therefore, from beginning the case to a conclusion, the defendant's rights would remain intact.
On a more personal note, in 2008, the judge went to Zimbabwe with Solid Rock Church, where they helped build houses for orphans with the Hands of Hope organization. He was advised not to go due to political turmoil in region, but they went anyway, and had a safe trip and wonderful time meeting the people of the region while building a lifetime of memories.
He and his wife visited Zimbabwe again in 2009 for about three weeks, where they assisted widows and orphans.
Originally authored by Dawn LaGrone and published in the July/August 2008 issue of the Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet September 2009
Updated for the Internet in 2010