Our Voice: Judge Craig Matheson's retirement leaves void in Tri-City judicial system

Superior Court Judge Craig Matheson's retirement announcement is one that draws a bittersweet reaction from us.

We hate to see him leave the Benton-Franklin County Superior Court after 26 years of wise service to the community.

But we applaud the fact that he's retiring in his prime and going to enjoy some of his hobbies at age 62.

After some time to play, pilot his plane, see family, get physically fit and catch up on household chores, he plans to dust off his law license, take on some mediation cases and do some investing in real estate. That's not our idea of taking it easy.

But compared with the three criminal dockets he now handles some weeks, it just might seem like it to him.

Matheson has a long list of accomplishments during his time on the bench. He was named as one of 20 judges improving the judicial system by the state Supreme Court.

He leads the state Superior Court Judges Association, representing both sides of the Cascades. And the Washington State Association for Justice made him "Judge of the Year" in 2002 for his work on the Finley School District E. coli outbreak.

Matheson receives high praise from those who enter his courtroom.

"I've always viewed Judge Matheson as a judge who just respected the system, respected our judiciary and the rights of all parties to come to court and to have their disputes settled under our jury and justice system," said Kennewick attorney Chris Mertens.

Jeff Sperline, president of the local bar association, said, "He was to me always judicial in demeanor and fair and gave you reasons for what he was doing, and that's all, as far as I'm concerned in practicing law, I'm looking for in any judge. He fit the bill."

Matheson has worked hard in recent years on caseload management, balancing domestic, civil and criminal matters.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," Matheson said. "People actually have a day in court. I'm really pleased that you can get in here and get your cases heard in a reasonable amount of time."

That's no small feat in an overburdened court system. Keeping the cases flowing in a timely manner requires diligence and constant attention.

He retires April 30. He has plans to fly to a weeklong aviation trade show in Wisconsin and to watch the fireworks over Washington, D.C., on the Fourth of July.

The governor's office has already asked for applicants to replace Matheson. The filing period ends March 1. Candidates will be interviewed by the governor's general counsel, then by Gov. Jay Inslee.

One potential candidate has already stepped forward, Kennewick lawyer Sal Mendoza Jr. Matheson says he'll put his support behind Mendoza.

Whoever succeeds Matheson has big shoes to fill. It's an important job that will have a lasting impact on the community. We were fortunate to have Judge Matheson in that role for so many years.