When Circuit Judge of Oregon’s 10th Judicial District Russell B. West retired in May, Gov. Kate Brown appointed Mona K. Williams, then Wallowa County District Attorney, as the first woman to serve as circuit judge in Union and Wallowa counties.
In November, Mona will run for reelection less than six months after being appointed, against Wes Williams, an attorney based in La Grande. The opponents are not related.
Mona is originally from Joseph, where she graduated from Joseph High School. She then went on to
attend Eastern Oregon University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in 1986. Three years later, she earned a juris doctor degree from the University of Idaho. In 2007, she was elected Wallowa County DA.
Mona had previously considered becoming a judge, but it wasn’t until West announced his retirement that the circumstances felt right. Additionally, she was planning not to run for reelection as Wallowa County DA, so she readily welcomed the new opportunity.
“I’ve always thought being a judge is something I wanted to do,” she said. “It’s been a goal since I went back to school and became an attorney.”
With a few months on the bench behind her, Mona said attaining her goal has been fulfilling.
“My biggest accomplishment so far has been learning the job and realizing my almost 30 years of experience has paid off,” Mona said. “There are a lot of areas I’m familiar with, and it’s been gratifying to know that all that work and all those years of doing so many different things has given me a really good background for this job.”
Mona touted her experience in juvenile law, which is handy in Union County, where both juvenile criminal cases and dependency law, typically cases of abuse or neglect, are prevalent — both of which she said are complex areas of the law.
“I have 12 years of experience dealing with (juvenile law). I don’t think my opponent has that same experience,” she said.
Mona said her mantra as DA was to “do the right thing” and do right by the public, victims and the
accused — and that mindset has continued to drive her work as judge.
Wes Williams was born in Oregon City and graduated from Estacada High School in 1979. He went on to attend what is now Southern Oregon University before graduating from Portland State University with a degree in social science and a teaching certificate. Wes went on to teach at Sandy High School for seven years while saving money for law school. He then attended law school at the University of Oregon and graduated with a juris doctor degree in 1996.
Wes has been practicing law and living in
La Grande since 1996, when he opened his practice. He said he spends about half his time in transactional cases, such as contracts, wills and setting up small businesses, and the rest of his time on civil litigation cases, criminal cases and a small percent on appeals.
Wes previously appealed one of his cases to the Oregon Supreme Court, where he successfully secured a mother’s parental rights.
This diversity of experience is what Wes said makes him qualified for the bench. He also said he believes he has the disposition necessary to be an impartial judge.
“A judge who has good judicial temperament does not prejudge any case,” Wes said. “A judge that has good judicial temperament listens to everyone and shows respect to everyone in the courtroom, and that’s everyone, regardless of their economic status, their race, their ethnicity, their gender.”
If Wes is elected, he said his intent would be to make sure everyone in his courtroom has a fair proceeding.
“My number one goal is to make sure every citizen who walks in my courtroom has been treated with respect and fairness,” Wes said, “and feels they have had a full and fair hearing.”