KC LeDell, Circuit Court Judge – Candidate Interview

by George Hough, Washington County Democrats Communications Committee Member

KC LeDell is currently running for the office of Judge for the Washington County Circuit Court, District 20, Seat 6. The Washington County Central Committee has wholeheartedly endorsed KC. In brief, KC presents with a richly diverse background, both academically and professionally. Through his unique blending of professional and personal life experiences, as well as academic pursuits, KC is well suited for, and exhibits the right kind of balanced judicial temperament expected of a judge at any station in the judiciary.

Academically, KC graduated from Reed College, in Portland, where he studied the Classics in the original Latin and Greek. After college graduation in 2009, KC worked for three years in the Portland area, then matriculated to the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago. As a law student, KC had originally thought he would devote his legal career to being a prosecutor. After passing the Oregon Bar Examination, KC accepted a position with the Lincoln County Prosecutor’s Office in Newport, Oregon.

It was there in Newport, as an entry level prosecutor, that KC began to think more deeply about the multifaceted determinants of the criminal behavior exhibited among the defendants he prosecuted. As he put it: “That’s where I started to focus on the mental health aspects of the criminal justice system.” He elaborated that,” I have always been a ‘root cause’ guy. Drilling down on my own to solve problems for the long term. Sometimes [the criminal act] it is a psychological issue, and if the right kind of supports are provided, then the behavior does not happen again. And, in the long run, the goal should be for the long-term safety of the community.”

After a year as a prosecutor, KC went to work for the Oregon Judicial Department, in Salem, where he worked as a legislative analyst tracking bills, as well as deconstructing the oftentimes obtuse legal language embedded within the bills themselves. KC emphasized the importance of understanding the legal and political machinery of how a bill is created, as well as understanding the actual content and implications of the bill itself. Having thus mastered both sides of this legislative coin, KC has a unique ‘big picture’ view of the legislative process.

In the Fall of 2017, KC moved over to the Oregon House Majority Office, where he served for two full legislative sessions. He then broadened his legal experience further by working with the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission for 1½ years as a grant analyst. In this capacity, KC once again took a deep dive into the legal and social science literature, as he examined the causal roots of major social issues. This intellectual journey took him to the intersection of where mental illness, substance abuse, criminal behavior, and social supports all converge.

The particularly vexing question, and Herculean research task he undertook, pertains specifically to the small but highly visible members of the patient population who account for an extraordinarily sizable percentage of visits to hospital emergency rooms, admissions to inpatient psychiatric facilities, and for jail incarcerations. These patients, for example, constitute only 10% of emergency room patients but generate 60% of all visits. As high ‘service-utilizers’ these individuals are in a revolving door between and within institutions and cost the public millions of taxpayer dollars per year. KC continues to immerse himself in this profoundly important problem and he anticipates that he will be able to offer crafted solutions for some cases from the bench.

Following a stint as a staff attorney with the Disability Rights of Oregon office in Portland, KC then transferred to the Washington County Public Defender’s Office where he has served as staff attorney for the past year. As a Public Defender, he litigates mostly criminal cases and civil commitments. When asked why he moved over to the PD’s office, KC elaborated upon how he felt ‘called to serve’ and wanted to work where he is most needed to serve the public. In this role KC provides legal services to those who need his help most: the indigent, the disenfranchised, and the mentally ill and substance dependent.

As we concluded our interview, I asked KC directly why he wanted to run for office as a County Circuit Court judge, given the elevated levels of emotional strain and social, if not media pressures, the position can entail. KC did not miss a beat, as he answered: “This is where I am needed. Someone needs to step up and take this role. And bring to it the genuine compassion and civility it deserves.” He then further elaborated upon a recurrent theme he articulated throughout our discussion, namely the vital importance of the individual answering the call and stepping up to perform public service for the greater good of the community. He spoke to how:

“My biggest focus as a judge would be on mental health. Because what we are doing is not working. Lots of people have given up on these people. Real changes are within our reach that would make life better for all of us. We need a whole toolbox [ regarding judicial decisions], not just a hammer. Some cases require a scalpel. I have done a lot of work with mental health advocacy. I have collaborated with people who work in the mental health field and have supported movements that uplift people. I always ask who we are as a people when we have leaders at the national and state levels in power who have lost their service mentality. How can we ask ordinary citizens to step up and be of service when they see their leaders not doing that themselves? We have an obligation to model this behavior.”

KC concluded our interview by observing of himself that “as a judge, I am a servant (italicized to reflect vocal emphasis) to the community. Not the other way around.”

KC will be kicking off his campaign during the second week of April. His campaign can be reached at: https://www.ledellforjudge.com