“People don’t realize the critical public safety role municipal court plays in a community,” says Judge Jane Aiken. “With an impact on things from traffic violations to homeless-related issues to issues for our veterans with honorable discharges… When you change behaviors, you change lives.”
Aiken, who has served as a Salem Municipal Court Judge for more than 17 years, faces a challenge for her seat in the Primary Election on May 15.
Her competitor is Salem attorney Melissa Parker, who practices criminal and family law and serves as adjunct professor at Willamette University.
Parker says she decided to run because, as a practicing attorney, “I was struck by how inefficiently the Salem Municipal Court runs. The court is frequently running hours behind schedule. This makes it virtually impossible to anticipate how long a court appearance may take.”
Poor time management, Parker says, has “ripple effects” on Salem, seen in tax dollars that pay overtime wages for court staff and additional judges, and in the impact on the lives of law enforcement personnel “when their wait for trial cuts into their sleep schedule or shift schedule.”
Parker says the community is “currently paying eight judges, in addition to the full-time presiding judge, to carry out the equivalent of 1 full time employee on the bench.” She believes her experience of efficiently running her own business for eight years has taught her the importance of “delegating and prioritizing, and the significant role that administrators and support staff play in keeping an organization functioning. I think these are crucial skills for a presiding judge to possess.”
As an active attorney who has “worked on the prosecution side as well as the defense side of criminal cases in Salem,” Parker says, “I recognize the motivating factors on both sides, and the responsibilities each side carries. I believe I can be a fair and neutral decision-maker to develop effective resolutions to cases in the Salem Municipal Court.”
For her part, Aiken expresses pride in her record and says her most important asset is the institutional memory she provides, “with the record of actually improving the court and a clear, practical and achievable route to meet the future challenges of the court.”
Aiken has recently posted a 5-Year Strategic Plan that she intends to implement in upcoming years. The Plan, she says, “lays out the critical components of an independent judiciary fulfilling the Rule of Law, Due Process, and public faith and confidence in the system, as well as the critical needs of the administration of justice – embodied in the work of the court administrator and court staff in supporting the judicial functions.”
Aiken says that since she began serving as judge, she has cut wait times in half for many court appearances and dockets, improved compliance monitoring and established and expanded a Violations Bureau to serve the public more efficiently.
“It’s been a privilege and richly rewarding experience serving as Municipal Judge,” Aiken says, “I followed someone I truly admired and respected, Judge Frank Gruber. I also took to heart his advice not to try to change too much right away; that the perspective of a Pro Tem judge who only appears in the courtroom is way different than the day-to-day duties of the presiding judge off the bench. He was so right.”
Many attorneys, Aiken says, “and the public are unaware of the complexity of administrative duties of a full service, limited jurisdiction court such as ours… Our elected judge has more responsibilities than the smaller, statutorily created courts.”