Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



Baker County Justice of the Peace Lise Yervasi resigned Wednesday, citing the health problems that have kept her off the bench off and on over the past year.

County commissioners accepted her resignation and appointed her husband, Damien Yervasi, to take her place until her term ends Dec. 31, 2012.

Damien Yervasi has been serving as a pro-tem justice of the peace for the past couple of years.

Commissioners also named two pro-tem justices Wednesday, both of whom have served in that capacity: Keith Long and Don Williams.

Gov. John Kitzhaber appoints Justices of the Peace when the officeholder resigns or is unable to complete the term.

Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. said he initially was told it could take months for the governor to name a judge, so the county needed to appoint someone to ensure the court continues to operate.

Warner was assured later that the state would try to move quickly to affirm Damien Yervasi or appoint someone else if the May 15 primary election doesn't produce an outright winner in the Justice of the Peace race.

If none of the seven candidates gets a majority of the votes May 15 (at least one more than 50 percent of the votes cast), then the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff in the Nov. 6 general election.

If there is a two-person runoff, then the commissioners intend to ask both candidates if they want to take Justice of the Peace training this fall.

This would ensure that whoever wins the Nov. 6 runoff would be well-prepared to take over the judge's position in January 2013.

The losing candidate, having gone through the training, would be a viable choice to serve as a pro-tem judge, as well, Warner said.

The seven candidates on the May 15 ballot are Williams, who was appointed as a pro-tem on Wednesday, Michael Downing, Steve Bogart, Gail Duman, Roger Coles, Floyd Morgan and James Miles Cornelius.

Damien Yervasi told the commissioners there are 10 to 15 more trials alone to get through within the next several months as the Justice Court pares down its inventory of roughly 1,000 criminal cases. Other criminal cases likely would crop up over time as probation and other violations occur involving people in the Justice Court system, he told the commissioners.

Warner said the county's goal is to reduce the court hours to part time starting next year and ensure that this occurs smoothly as the new Justice of the Peace acclimates.

Commissioners also approved a memorandum of understanding that allows Lise Yervasi to retain her county health insurance through the end of the year. Damien Yervasi won't be insured by the county.

Damien Yervasi was a candidate for the office but later dropped out of the race.

Commissioners are trying to keep the court from losing money after state legislators in 2011 reallocated funds to the state that had been going to the local courts. Relocation of criminal cases to the Baker County Circuit Court would make it easier to reduce the Justice Court to a part-time system.

Administration and office staff are expected to change as well. The number of employees overall might be reduced. Some of the workers there now are retirees who came back to help with court operations.

Another event has only added to courthouse troubles: The former trial court administrator was arrested in March on suspicion of theft and official misconduct. Gina Kay Settlemire, 40, of Baker City, allegedly committed one felony theft and four misdemeanor thefts from the courthouse office and reportedly misused court documents on three occasions, according to previous reports.

The Justice Court handles a variety of matters - traffic, boating, wildlife, misdemeanors as well as small claims and civil cases where damages don't exceed $7,500.

In other business Wednesday, the commissioners:

andbull; Recognized Jerry Boyd for his service to the county as the head of operations at the Consolidated Dispatch Center. Boyd received a certificate of appreciation for the efforts, which included a prodigious amount of grant writing. Sheila Thompson is the new director of the center. She was the assistant director.

andbull; Briefly discussed the Snow Basin Management Plan, which would allow limited tree-cutting in the east Baker County portion of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The county expects to file an appeal. Warner said.

andbull; Heard about upgrades at Holcomb Memorial Park on Brownlee Reservoir just east of Richland. Major landscaping work is under way at the park.

Work will be complete before Memorial Day weekend and includes a privacy fence for RVers that shields them from the road and streamlined driving paths. There will be a ceremony marking the completion of the work later in May.

andbull; Proclaimed may as Older Americans Month. The county has more than 3,500 residents age 65 and older.