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A crowd filled Judge Daniel Murphy's courtroom in the Linn County Courthouse to congratulate Judge Carol Bispham at her retirement reception on Friday.

After 18-and-a-half years on the bench, Bispham will officially retire June 30. Well-wishers gathered at the reception to hear stories of her life and career, and to enjoy refreshments.

The retiring judge told the story of her childhood, which was marked with poverty and spans of homelessness.

"I remember being cold, and life was always a struggle," she said. "There was strife, there was anger, there were alcohol issues, but there was also a lot of love."

Bispham described living in a one-room shack with her family as a child, moving to Klamath Falls as a single mother of three, and eventually working her way into law school.

"The word that I think of most when I think of Carol is 'tenacious,'" said retired Lane County judge and longtime friend Joan Seitz. "I consider this a time for Carol to have a victory lap." 

Seitz also told the crowd, "Carol has had significantly more challenges than I," in terms of getting through law school and becoming a judge.

"It was difficult enough for me as a single person to graduate," she added.

During a June 12 interview with the Democrat-Herald, Bispham reflected on her career while sitting in her chambers, surrounded by framed newspaper clippings, awards and other artifacts from her 18-year tenure.

Thinking back on her career, Bispham recalls being admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 1987, and for a while was the only female lawyer in the county. Before joining the bench, Bispham practiced personal injury law, as well as family and criminal law. She'd been a lawyer for 12 years when she became a judge, which she said is a relatively short time.

She said there are a few differences between being a trial lawyer and a judge.

"You sit all the time," she said. "Lawyers are always leaping up and objecting, but judges just sit."

Another she shared had to do with preparation. Where lawyers have researched their client's case and prepared arguments and motions, a judge is coming in cold with each case.

"I take everything that walks in the door," she said.

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And, for Bispham, there seems to be less time available these days to devote to each case.

"In my 18 years on the bench we have had five judges," she said. "And we know what has happened to the population."

Bispham said these days she might have two minutes per case, which she said can leave some defendants wondering what just happened.

"I remember when I first started the judges weren't as rushed," she said. "I liked that time better."

Because of her challenging past, Bispham says she understands the plight of many defendants.

"But it's still not an excuse to commit a crime," she said.

At her reception, Bispham was sworn in as a senior judge, a post she will hold for the next five years. In that capacity she will fill in for judges who for one reason or another are absent. She will also stay on to "pinch-hit" as a circuit judge for the next seven weeks.

Gov. Kate Brown plans to appoint a new judge for Linn County by November of this year.

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Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net

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Courts Reporter