On May 15, voters will select candidates for Oregon governor and narrow the field in a contentious Portland City Council race. But perhaps their most difficult task will be deciding a handful of judicial races.

The races between judicial candidates are nonpartisan and provide the winners with six-year terms. They're difficult because few voters are familiar with the candidates.

In Multnomah County, for example, a race for one of the court's 38 judgeships pits a pillar of Oregon's legal establishment against a colorful challenger.

Incumbent judges rarely face competition.

"You can count on one person's hand the number of genuinely contested judicial races we've had in this state over the past dozen years," says Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis.

The race between incumbent Leslie Roberts and challenger Alex Hamalian is a low-dollar affair (the candidates have raised about $5,000 in cash combined), but it's generating great interest among lawyers: In an Oregon State Bar preference poll, Roberts got 568 votes and Hamalian 327. While that's a convincing margin, it also suggests some unease.

Marquis, a 38-year veteran of the bar who has practiced all over the state, says that unease is widespread. "What the contested races tell me is there's dissatisfaction with the status quo," he says.

Here's a tale of the tape in that Multnomah County Circuit Court race, and a quick look at other judicial contests.

Judge Leslie Roberts

Bio: Roberts, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Reed College and longtime civil litigator in Portland, joined the bar in 1972 and has been on the bench since 2007. She runs with the endorsement of numerous judges and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, co-owner of WW's parent company.)

Best known for: In 2006, Roberts' neighbor and friend, Youlee Yim You, snagged an appointment to the bench that Roberts coveted. Roberts then filed an elections complaint, arguing successfully that You did not meet residency requirements to be on the ballot.

Outstanding educational credential: A juris doctor degree from Yale, one of the nation's top law schools.

Fun fact: Roberts and her husband, Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Rex Armstrong (see below), have 14 children, 12 adopted from China.

Judicial philosophy: "A judge must seek to treat with courtesy and respect the parties who come into court. The case may require the court to impose serious consequences for criminal or wrongful behavior, but the judge's role requires a recognition and acknowledgment of the rights and dignity of all. In criminal sentencing, the court's first duty is to protect the community and crime victims."
—from the Oregon State Bar Judicial Voters Guide 2018

Alex Hamalian

Bio: Hamalian is a rough-and-tumble criminal defense attorney who has practiced in Portland and on the Oregon Coast since 1996. He is running as the outsider candidate, boasting only the endorsement of his fellow Armenian-American, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. (He also has the love of his dog, Titus Pullo, 13, a rescue mutt that appears with him in campaign ads.)

Best known for: Wearing bowler hats to court and his ownership stake in the Matador, a beloved West Burnside dive bar that closed in 2014.

Outstanding educational credential: Machinist's certificate from Homestead Technical, a high school program in Northern California.

Fun fact: When Hamalian moved his practice to the coast, business was slow so he augmented his earnings by working as chef and proprietor at Fat Dog Pizza in Tillamook.

Judicial philosophy: "Very few of the judges presiding over cases have the faintest idea of the troubles and issues faced by the immigrants, the working-class parties and the victims that stand before them. These are the people who are nearly unrepresented on the Multnomah County bench."
—from the OSB Judicial Voters Guide

Multnomah County Courthouse (Daniel Stindt)
Multnomah County Courthouse (Daniel Stindt)

Statewide contested judicial races:

Oregon Supreme Court: Incumbent Judge Meaghan Flynn faces challenger Van Pounds. What you should know: Flynn, a former Oregon Court of Appeals judge, outscored Pounds 9 to 1 in the bar preference poll. As WW previously reported, Pounds' subordinates at the state Department of Consumer and Business Services told an HR investigator he was "the least credible person in the unit."

Oregon Court of Appeals: Incumbent Rex Armstrong faces challenger Kyle Krohn, a Portland public defender. The preference poll in this race was much closer, with Armstrong outpacing Krohn just 2.5 to 1. Krohn has a busy appellate practice—he says he's written 300 appellate briefs and argued before the Court of Appeals 60 times in the past five years. Armstrong joined the Court of Appeals in 1995, when Krohn was still a middle-schooler.

For more on all judicial candidates go to osbar.org.