Steve Osborne knows commitment.
He has been married for 46 years, practiced law for 42 years — 38 of those with the same Kennewick firm — and served his country for 37 years.
So when asked if he could commit to being Benton County District Court’s newest judge and be prepared to run a campaign in 2016 to keep the seat, Osborne said there was no question.
“(Chairman Jerome Delvin) wanted to see stability in the court, and I said I think my history and my life speaks for it,” Osborne said about his interview with Benton County commissioners. “I want this to be more than a one-year term, to be honest.”
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Delvin and commissioners Shon Small and James Beaver, voted unanimously to appoint Osborne to a vacancy on the bench left by Judge Bob Ingvalson’s retirement in late October.
The decision came this week after the commissioners interviewed the four finalists, who also included attorneys Jennifer Azure, Jim Bell and Julie Long.
Osborne, 68, recognizes there are mandatory retirement ages for judges, but he’s hoping to do at least five years with the consideration of a second-term run.
“I looked at it as a noble way to complete my career and as an extension of the public service that I’ve been involved in, not only to the law … but to the country and the community,” Osborne told the Herald.
“Yes, you get paid and yes you get paid handsomely,” he added. “But what I am proud of is a pretty darn good career and ending it with service to my friends and family and the citizens of Benton County.”
Osborne plans to start Jan. 4. He will attend judicial college for one week in January.
District Court judges serve four-year terms and make an annual salary of nearly $155,000. They preside over misdemeanors, infractions, criminal traffic and non-traffic cases, and mitigation and contested hearings.
Osborne topped the Benton Franklin Counties Bar Association poll for “first overall choice” of the 14 initial applicants.
Court Administrator Jacki Lahtinen said the court is excited to have Osborne on board.
“We’re looking forward to when he can start,” she said. “I think he will be a good addition to our judicial team.”
It has not yet been determined which jurisdiction he will preside over. Ingvalson primarily oversaw Prosser and county cases handled in the Benton County Courthouse, but he traveled to the Justice Center in Kennewick for other court matters.
Lahtinen said the four judges wanted to wait until their new colleague was picked before making major changes.
Delvin told the Herald that all of the finalists were qualified, but he was swayed by Osborne’s community service, experience as a pro tem judge, and the letters of support and unsolicited calls that came in on his behalf.
“He worked it a lot better than the others,” Delvin said. “I look forward to Steve taking the bench and hopefully he can work with the other judges.”
Initially it was believed that the new judge wouldn’t have to run for election until the end of Ingvalson’s term in 2018. However, the commissioners later learned from the Secretary of State’s office that Osborne must file next May for election.
Osborne is a “third-generation Kennewickian” who’s spent his entire life in the Tri-Cities, aside from his time at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Gonzaga University School of Law and in the Army.
Steve and Karen Osborne have a daughter, Kara Beauchamp, who is a P.E. teacher at Park Middle School in Kennewick and a son, Drew, who is a decorated Navy aviator and a Delta Air Lines pilot living on Whidbey Island. They have two grandchildren.
Steve Osborne was a founding partner of the Rettig Osborne Forgette Law Office in March 1977. The focus of his practice has been insurance defense, employment law, wrongful termination, personal injury and some criminal work.
Osborne was president of the local bar from 1994-95, and later served a three-year term on the Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors. In 2011, he was inducted into the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel, an honor he says is limited to 1,000 members in the U.S. and its territories.
Osborne’s 37 years of military service included nine years enlisted. He retired from the Army Reserves as a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.
He has worked with various community organizations and boards, including Visit Tri-Cities, the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Columbia Industries and the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation. He also has been an active Kiwanian for at least 10 years.
Osborne said he can relate to many people because his résumé also includes being a flagman for a crop duster, bucking hay for farmers, working in cold storage plants and loading 100-pound bags of potatoes into boxcars.
The lawyer went to a reduced work schedule in early 2015 as he was thinking about retirement in the next year or two. But Osborne is grateful for the new commitment and ready to start the next step in his career.
“(People) can expect (a judge) that has got a breadth of knowledge, doesn’t have any particular agenda, is going to listen and will try to make the best decision based upon the evidence,” he said. “And one that is going to treat both counsel and the litigants or the defendants with respect.”