Amanda Benjamin is a full-time Circuit Court Judge Pro Tempore in Lincoln County, Oregon. She was appointed as a Pro Tem Judge by the Oregon Supreme Court in December 2018 and began serving Lincoln County January 2, 2019. As a Pro Tem Judge, Ms. Benjamin presides over all types of cases including criminal matters of all levels and civil matters which include civil suits, small claims suits and domestic relations cases and presides over jury trials. In addition, she handles the juvenile dependency and delinquency docket for Lincoln County.
Prior to taking her position on the bench in January 2, 2019, Ms. Benjamin was employed as a Deputy District Attorney in the Lincoln County District Attorney's Office. Ms. Benjamin prosecuted cases of all levels and types while in the District Attorney's Office however, for the
majority of her time there she specialized in cases involving child physical and sexual abuse. She was a member of the Major Crimes Team, Lead of the Child Dependency Team, and Co-Chair of the Child Abuse Multidisciplinary Team. Ms. Benjamin was known for her careful judgment, her knowledge of the law and her dedication to her work. She knew the importance of a full investigation and obtaining substantial and reliable proof before bringing criminal charges against an individual and she had great respect for the grand jury and jury trial process.
Amanda is a proud Oregonian by choice. She grew up in Swannanoa, North Carolina. Amanda first became interested in the law during her senior year of college while participating in a clinic that studied cases in which innocent individuals were sentenced to death and later exonerated by DNA evidence. Amanda graduated from the University of North Carolina Asheville with a 4.0 GPA and went on to the University of Tennessee College of Law on a full merit-based scholarship. Amanda was a graduate research scholar for UT College of Law and was involved in moot court and the legal clinic. She received the Tennessee Governor's Award for Excellency in Trial Advocacy, awarded to only one law student in the state each year. She graduated with honors and a concentration in advocacy.
Following law school, Amanda and her husband Joseph, who had each lived in several different states, decided to travel and choose where they wanted to build their lives and family. On a road trip of the west coast, they fell in love with Lincoln County. The following year they moved to Oregon and were married at Rocky Creek State Park in Depoe Bay. It took some time to establish job opportunities in Lincoln County however, they were persistent and just over a year after falling in love with the area, they moved permanently to Newport.
Amanda and Joseph continue to reside in Newport with their son, Finnegan, and are expecting a daughter very soon. They couldn't imagine a better community to raise their children in. In their free time, and when weather allows, they are most likely found exploring the
coast they fell in love with, fishing, crabbing or taking Finnegan to the aquarium. Amanda takes pride in balancing her career and family life and believes wholeheartedly that having a passion for both her family and her job has made her a better judge, mother and person.
What is a Circuit Court Judge?
The circuit court is a state trial court of general jurisdiction. Each county in Oregon has a circuit court which handles criminal and civil cases. In Lincoln County, all misdemeanor and felony criminal cases are filed in the circuit court. The circuit court also hears civil cases, probate matters, domestic relations, juvenile dependency and juvenile delinquency cases, and traffic and wildlife violations.
Lincoln County has 3 Circuit Court Judge positions and 1 Circuit Court Judge Pro Tem position. Circuit Court Judges are elected officials who serve 6 year terms. A Pro Tem is a judge appointed by the Supreme Court of Oregon to serve as a Circuit Court Judge. A pro tem has all of the same judicial powers and duties of an elected judge. Some counties utilize pro tems as volunteer or part-time judges to help cover busy dockets or provide specialty experience. In Lincoln County, the pro tem judge is a full-time employee of the judicial department, however the position is a limited duration appointment and is subject to available funding each year.
Why Your Vote Matters
Ms. Benjamin strongly values the role of a judge in our community and believes that ultimately, the quality of our judges determines the effectiveness of our legal system. How a judge treats the individuals that appear before them will have an impact on how much respect is given to the courts' rulings. Ms. Benjamin is thoughtful, empathetic and careful in the work that she does and cares greatly about the impact that her rulings will have on both the people in front of her and the community as a whole. When a judge consistently takes the time to make the right decision in each case the entire system will see positive changes.
Judges are also in the position to have a substantial impact on the community through the programs and practices they implement in their courts and the work that they do with community partners. Ms. Benjamin is dedicated, hardworking and determined to make a positive impact on Lincoln County in every way that she can. In just over a year on the bench, Ms. Benjamin has focused on continually improving the courts, the juvenile dependency docket and developing a mental health treatment court for Lincoln County.
Juvenile Dependency Cases
Juvenile dependency cases are filed when the Department of Human Services intervenes to request temporary custody of a child. These cases are complicated and typically handled only by attorneys who specialize in juvenile dependency matters. These cases are also highly emotional as they involve interference with a parent's rights to their children. When children are removed from their parents, they become wards of the court. The court is responsible for a number of major decisions in the cases, including ultimately determining whether or not the children are returned to their parents. These cases can last years. It is very important that they are consistently handled by a judge that thoroughly understands the law, is careful and thoughtful in their decisions and who cares about the families involved.
Lincoln County suffered a huge loss with the retirement of Judge Paulette Sanders who was our Juvenile Court Judge for 8 years. She was very passionate about these cases and the children and families involved. When Judge Sanders went on medical leave in early 2019, Ms. Benjamin knew the importance of having a consistent judge assigned to these matters who was experienced and familiar with juvenile law and she stepped up to make sure that happened. In addition to presiding over the Juvenile cases in Lincoln County, Ms. Benjamin took the lead of the Lincoln County Juvenile Model Court Team which exists to continually improve the quality of the juvenile court system. Lincoln County needs and deserves a dedicated, long-term judge who cares about these cases and the children and families involved. Ms. Benjamin has already shown that she is capable of filling this role.
Criminal cases make up approximately 65% of all cases filed in Lincoln County (22% civil, 4% probate and 9% family law or domestic relations). Criminal matters also take up a significant portion of the docket time in Lincoln County. In addition to presiding over trials, judges are responsible for making numerous and often difficult or complicated decisions in these cases including hearing motions to suppress evidence or dismiss cases, sentencing, monitoring convicted defendant's compliance with bench probation, determining whether to releasing defendant's from custody, and determining when defendants are not mentally competent to stand trial. All of these decisions have an impact on the community. It is absolutely essential that a judge hearing criminal matters have a thorough understanding of criminal law and the sentencing guidelines and continually educate themselves as new law is created by the appellate courts or legislature. In addition, it is essential that a judge have the right temperament to appropriately and fairly handle criminal cases, particularly when victims are involved. Without qualified judges, litigants cannot be assured fairness in when appearing before the court nor can our community be confident in our justice system.
Before joining the bench, Ms. Benjamin served as a deputy district attorney with the Lincoln County District Attorney's Office. She prosecuted all levels and types of crimes during her time there but was primarily responsible for prosecution of felony crimes involving child physical and sexual abuse and representing the state in juvenile dependency matters. It is a great understatement to say that these cases are difficult. Filing of these types of charges is life changing for an individual regardless of the outcome. It was essential when handling these matters to be discerning and careful in evaluating cases before they were charged, meticulous in trial preparation and planning, knowledgeable of the law and empathetic and respectful towards victims and families as they coped with the legal process. The same thoughtfulness and awareness is essential for a judge who hears criminal cases. Ms. Benjamin cares greatly about the integrity of the legal system and ensuring that defendants and victims are treated fairly, justly and respectfully.
Mental Health and Wellness Court
Because of the limited resources our community, state and nation have to address mental illness, those suffering with mental health diagnoses can end up in the criminal justice system. Oregon has seen a number of changes in the law in the past year as people become aware of the problems our legal system faces in properly handling these matters. In Lincoln County, it is especially difficult to find alternatives to criminal charging and incarceration when our county lacks adequate housing options, shelters, treatment centers and other necessary supports. Lincoln County had a mental health court in the past, however it was not compliant with the Oregon Specialty Court Standards and it lacked the community involvement and support that was needed to make it sustainable.
It took little time on the bench for Ms. Benjamin to realize the need for coordination of care for these individuals in our criminal system. Ms. Benjamin began coordinating with community partners in 2019 to start a mental health court and is very excited to officially begin Lincoln County Mental Health & Wellness Court on February 4, 2020. Currently, Health and Wellness Court operates without funding through the generous contributions of caring community partners. However, the program will be fully compliant with Oregon Specialty Court Standards and will be eligible for grant funding in the next cycle. Ms. Benjamin is proud to be creating a treatment court that is team oriented and will flourish through the dedication and experience of all of its members. There is so much work to be done in this area and electing Ms. Benjamin as a Circuit Court Judge will provide her with the ability to continue on this path.