After 25 years on the bench, Clatsop County Circuit Court Judge Paula Brownhill will retire in November.

Brownhill, 68, is the presiding judge of the court. She was appointed by Gov. Barbara Roberts to fill Judge Thomas Edison’s position in 1994 and elected four times.

Brownhill did not plan on finishing another six-year term and didn’t think it was fair to run and win reelection only to leave, she said.

She hopes Gov. Kate Brown will appoint a new judge before she retires. The primary election is next May.

“I decided it was best to do it before the election and if I do it now then someone has an opportunity to be appointed to the position before the election to see if it’s something they really want to do,” Brownhill said.

Lee Merrill, the trial court administrator, is also retiring this fall.

“Lee and I work really well together,” Brownhill said. “It seemed like a good date.”

Brownhill chose a retirement option which requires her to work 35 days a year for five years. She will fill in for judges in the county and around the state.

She is looking forward to staying involved in law while also visiting different parts of the state.

“The people I’m able to interact with in the courtroom and in meetings, in the community — that’s the best part about the job,” Brownhill said. “There’s so many people we interact with frequently and I like them all and I will miss that interaction with them as well, but I’ll enjoy being retired.”

Clatsop County District Attorney Ron Brown said Brownhill’s retirement is “well-deserved after a distinguished career.”

Brownhill became the presiding judge after Judge Philip Nelson retired after his term ended in 2016. Judge Cindee Matyas and Judge Dawn McIntosh also serve on the court.

Brownhill just received the Oregon State Bar’s Wallace P. Carson Jr. Award for Judicial Excellence for 2019, which honors a member of the state’s judiciary for making significant contributions to the judicial system and who is “a model of professionalism, integrity and judicial independence.”

Brownhill said the award was unexpected and that she felt honored.

“I’ve learned a great deal,” she said. “It’s been a good job and I really feel honored to have this position for so long and have the voters have confidence in me.”

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or

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