Lane County Circuit Court race pits state lawmaker against new judge

Beatrice Grace and Marty Wilde would bring different backgrounds to the six-year position

By: - November 4, 2022 6:00 am

Beatrice Grace and Marty Wilde are running for a circuit judge position in Lane County. (Campaign photos)

A recently appointed circuit court judge is running against an Oregon state lawmaker to keep her Lane County judicial seat.

The two candidates running for the seat in Lane County Circuit Court, Judge Beatrice Grace and longtime state lawmaker Marty Wilde, would bring vastly different backgrounds to the position, which has a six-year term. 

Circuit court judges, which are nonpartisan elected judicial officers, preside over a range of judicial proceedings, including criminal cases, civil lawsuits, evictions and family court cases. Judges wield extraordinary influence in a courtroom, even when juries decide verdicts. They determine when evidence can be heard or tossed out, they can dismiss cases and they sentence defendants found guilty.

Grace, appointed to the seat by Gov. Kate Brown to fill a vacancy in August, is running for the first time. She has worked as an attorney and law clerk, also had a 25-year career as a nurse in hospital emergency rooms before changing careers and returning to law school. 

Marty Wilde, a Democratic lawmaker in the Oregon House, is also a colonel in the Oregon Air National Guard and serves as a military attorney. He’s deployed to the Middle East and has experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney in Texas and Oregon. 

Lane County has 15 circuit court judges on the bench. Another judge in Lane County, Michelle Bassi, is running unopposed. Bassi was appointed to her seat in August.

Here’s a look at the two candidates: 

Beatrice Grace 

Name: Beatrice Grace

Age: 51 

Residence: Creswell 

Profession: Lane County circuit court judge

Funds raised as of Nov. 3, 2022: $60,000

Cash on hand as of Nov. 3, 2022: $21,000

Key endorsements:  Oregon Nurses Association;  U.S. Rep Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon; Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle; and Sen. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene. She also has the support of the other circuit court judges in Lane County

In an interview, Grace said inequities in the health care system that she saw as a nurse motivated her to pursue a legal career. 

At 41, she entered law school at the University of Oregon as a single mother. She later worked as a clerk in Lane County for U.S. Magistrate Judge Mustafa Kasubhai when he was a circuit court judge. She’s also worked in civil litigation, primarily as a medical malpractice attorney.

Grace sees similarities between courtrooms and hospital emergency rooms. Both are places where people come on their worst days, she said.

Her goal when working with people in her courtroom is similar to a nurse, regardless of the outcome, she said.

“I want to hopefully leave them with some sense of hope or clarity or ability to have some closure and know what they’re doing next,” she said.

She stressed her nonpartisan background, saying it’s a conscious decision she’s made because “judges need to be advocates of the law.”

“You need to listen to all sides of the story,” she said. “That’s very, very important to me.”

Like emergency room nurses, Grace said, judges have to be nimble – and adapt to their assigned daily docket whether it’s criminal, civil, juvenile or family law cases.

Grace said it’s critical that children’s best interests are upheld in family court. She said she experienced family court personally as a single mother and empathizes with people who go through the stressful experience. 

“I know what it’s like to be looking up at a judge,” she said.

Brown appointed Grace to her position to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Lauren Holland. Grace was picked from a slate of about a dozen candidates that included her opponent, Wilde.

Marty Wilde

Name: Marty Wilde

Age: 47 

Residence: Eugene

Profession: State legislator, attorney and colonel in Oregon Air National Guard

Funds raised as of Nov. 3, 2022: $54,000 (including $32,000 from the 2020 election cycle)

Cash on hand as of Nov. 3, 2022: $4,390

Key endorsements: Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield; Lane County Commissioner Pat Farr; retired Lane County Commissioner C. Pete Sorenson; and Mike McLane, former judge and House Republican leader 

Wilde was first elected in 2018 as a Democratic representative to his Oregon House seat, which encompasses portions of Lane and Linn counties. 

A colonel in the Oregon Air National Guard, he’s served in the military for 28 years and is an attorney in the service. Wilde also has practiced law in Texas, where he has worked as an assistant district attorney in Texas. He’s also worked as a deputy district attorney in Linn County and has experience in civil law and criminal defense work. 

Wilde said his experience gives him a well-rounded understanding of the system and a desire to ensure that everybody is respected. As a criminal defense attorney, he said, he convinced an all-white jury to acquit a Black man accused of aggravated assault.

As a military attorney, he’s also pursued cases including a sexual assault in Qatar and, in a deployment,  aided Afghanistan’s rebuilding efforts in 2011.

Beyond ensuring fairness for all, Wilde said he decided to run in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which toppled a federal abortion rights. “I knew that we really needed judges who were going to defend Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity law so that, whatever the federal government was going to do, we had strong protections at the state level, and we needed judges that were committed to upholding the law,” Wilde told the Capital Chronicle.

Oregon has one of the strongest abortion rights protections in the nation, primarily through the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which the Legislature passed in 2017. It gives expanded access to reproductive health services, eliminating out-of-pocket costs and restrictions based on gender identity or immigration status.

Wilde said he supports reforms that look at the system as a whole beyond courtrooms, such as police accountability measures he supported in the Legislature. They include House Bill 2936, which establishes related background check and social media practices aimed at preventing and weeding out racism among police departments.

Wilde said the system needs to ensure that before justice in a courtroom that “the process by which people get there is also fair.”

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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.

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