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Kitsap County District Court judge retires

Kitsap County District Court Judge W. Daniel Phillips announced his retirement on Monday, saying he intends to step down in March after 27 years on the bench.

Phillips’ successor will be selected by the Kitsap County commissioners, from a list of applicants who come forward after the opening is advertised. The appointment will most likely occur after the first of the year, when at least one new commissioner is on the board.

District Court judges are elected to four-year terms, in years that do not correspond to the presidential election.

Phillips’ replacement is scheduled to take office next spring and would serve until 2010, at which point he or she would run for election as an incumbent.

District Court Administrator Maury Baker said he only knew of one District Court judge who was not re-elected to his position.

“If you are appointed or elected to the District Court, it is pretty much an appointment for life,” he said. “Unless you really screw up.”

The stated requirement for the District Judge position is a law degree and residency in the county. Other than that, Baker said that a good judge will have combined prosecutorial and defense experience, and boast a range of knowledge about legal issues.

The Kitsap County District Court has jurisdiction over misdemeanors and gross misdemeanor crimes, which carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/ or a $5,000 fine.

The most common criminal charges include domestic violence, assault and theft.

Traffic charges like driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license are filed into this court.

District Court also includes a Probation Services Division of the District Court supervises offenders sentenced by the court.

Its Civil Division processes Small Claims in amounts not exceeding $5,000 and civil actions not exceeding $75,000.

“A good judge is always learning,” Baker said. “They need to be fair-minded and willing to listen to all points of view. Their decisions need to be well-thought-out, because all of their rulings are subject to appeal.”

Potential candidates are sure to emerge in the next few weeks, as local lawyers decide whether to make the leap.

But one has already taken the plunge. Kitsap County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeffrey Jahns said Monday he will put his name forward, and that he has the necessary balance of experience in order to become an effective judge.

“I’ve been an attorney for 27 years,” he said. “I believe I can recognize all of the important issues that are important in this court and that I can add something to the bench.”

Jahns said he would “act as a referee and not an advocate for either side.”

Jahns said he liked the flexibility of the position, that a judge can impose punishment or steer the perpetrator toward treatment as the situation requires.

The Kitsap County District Court has four members, with James Riehl, Marilyn Paja and Stephen Holman also serving.

Phillips is the longest-serving of the four judges.

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