May 27, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

Who will be the next Union County district attorney?

Gov. John Kitzhaber's legal advisers say he will make the choice, probably in the final weeks of his term.

But between last week — when current District Attorney Russ West won the primary election with more than 50 percent of the vote to fill the circuit court judge's position created by Judge Eric Valentine's decision to retire at the end of the year — and the first of next year there are several possible scenarios.

First, and admittedly unlikely, the governor's legal adviser Danny Santos said from Salem, is that West faces a write-in challenger for the judge's post in the November general election and loses.

More realistically, Santos said, West will continue to serve the remainder of the year as district attorney, not submitting his resignation until just before Valentine resigns.

If, on Jan. 1, the district attorney's office becomes vacant, "Gov. Kitzhaber has the authority to make an appointment, but he has to do it before Jan. 13, when his term expires," Santos said.

Given, as is expected, that West will announce his retirement as district attorney in time for the governor's office to plan for a replacement to be appointed, "we could do this this summer, but it will probably wait until fall," Santos said.

Another scenario, again not probable, is that Kitzhaber decides to "take a pass" on making an appointment, Santos said. In that event, it is up to the state attorney general's office to assure that Union County has coverage in the district attorney's office until the new governor makes an appointment.

"My reading is that the governor would make the appointment," Santos added.

"His desire is to make the appointments, which also saves using the attorney general's office."

To make an appointment to fill West's position, the governor's two legal advisers in his office, along with a third attorney chosen from outside Union County, would put out notices through the Oregon State Bar Association, the state's association of district attorneys and other methods seeking individuals interested in applying for the post.

The interested attorneys — who have to be members in good standing with the Oregon Bar, but not necessarily Oregon residents — send applications to the governor's office.

"We then set up interviews," Santos said. While normally the third person working on the interviews is an attorney, in some cases it could be a lay person, he added, but it would be someone from outside Union County.

The governor's legal council and the third member of the selection committee will then pass on two or three names from which the governor can make an appointment.

The person appointed as Union County district attorney will complete the remaining two years of West's term.

"We anticipate all this will be done before Jan. 1," Santos said.

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