A candidate for the Oregon Supreme Court says he’s running for the position because he’s committed to “improving justice.”

With the retirement of Oregon Supreme Court Justice Robert “Skip” Durham next year, Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Timothy Sercombe, along with two other candidates, is contending for the soon-to-be vacated position that will appear on Oregon’s May 15 ballot.

In a swing through Astoria Friday, Sercombe said his idea of improving justice meant being thoroughly objective and balanced in legal rulings.

“I assess myself as probably a better judge than I was a lawyer,” Sercombe said.

Sercombe has been an Oregon appellate judge since 2007 when Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed him to the position.

Oregon’s unique series of land-use laws are one of Sercombe’s specialization areas, he said, along with cases related to government processes and free speech.

“I tend to focus on provisions in our state constitution that are different than maybe the federal Constitution, or that provide different civil rights than are afforded by the federal Constitution,” he said.

He’s found himself in the heart of land-use issues in the past.

Sercombe was an attorney for the League of Oregon Cities and the city of Hillsboro during the 1990s, a time when that city was contemplating plans for annexation.

In more recent years as a judge, Sercombe has written a number of opinions stemming from litigation surrounding Measure 49, the land-use law approved by voters in 2007.

Measure 49 significantly limited the amount of development that could take place in rural Oregon and resulted in a number lawsuits filed by landowners who claimed they were “vested” under the previous law.

Sercombe’s main opinion on Measure 49 became the guidance, he said, for a “subsequent 15 to 20 cases afterward that involved variations of that same issue.

“Improving justice,” Sercombe said, also means something else aside from maintaining judicial objectivity – namely, improving and expanding the use of technology to aid the legal system.

Because of budgetary restrictions, he said, technological advancements would make the state’s court system run more efficiently.

In the last biennium, the state’s judicial system had its budget cut by around 7 percent, Sercombe said. This biennium, it’s unclear what the cuts will look like, he added, but they’ll exist.

“We need to use technology to do more with less resources,” Sercombe said, adding that the judicial budget is largely for salaries.

He said the state should invest more in an electronic filing system. The only way to continue providing high-level legal services, he added, would be to replace laid-off file clerks with a technological alternative.

Sercombe laid out his positions as he prepared for the May election.

The election pits Sercombe against two challengers in a rare instance in which an Oregon Supreme Court seat will be decided by a contested election.

Sercombe is running against Richard Baldwin, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge, and Nena Cook, a trial attorney and pro tem judge for Multnomah County.

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