After years of seeing the impacts of drug use and inadequate parenting on the community, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ron Grensky has decided he will not run for re-election in 2018.
Grensky said Monday he will pursue other interests when his second six-year term ends in January 2019. He mainly handles civil cases for the court system, dealing with divorce, child custody, lawsuits and other noncriminal issues. In his earlier days as a judge, he handled criminal cases.
Grensky said the community is being damaged by drug and alcohol abuse, and many parents aren't caring for their children properly.
"We are ground zero for the break-up of the American family," he said of Jackson County Circuit Court.
Grensky said the court system and Oregon Department of Human Services often work for months or years to try and get parents to be responsible before terminating their parental rights.
"We're continually trying to work with parents who are not able or willing to be good parents, but they are the biological parents," he said. "We have to keep trying to make lemonade out of lemons. It breaks your heart when you see little kids — and bigger kids — who are affected by this. There are kids who are not even old enough to be in school who are going to therapy. Kids are doing drugs and cutting themselves because the parents don't seem to like them."
Grensky said the daily exposure to severe family problems takes its toll.
"It is a challenge seeing all that stuff. It has a cumulative effect on you," he said. "You start feeling, 'Is there anyone out there with a normal relationship?' The same people keep coming back over and over."
Grensky said judges are able to continue on in the job by feeling they can occasionally make a difference, especially in the lives of kids.
He said he has felt successful in using diplomacy to get warring parties to reach agreements during settlement conferences.
Looking at challenges ahead for the Jackson County Circuit Court system, Grensky said drug use, inadequate parenting and poverty among families will continue to be major issues.
"We have adolescent homelessness. We have people on food stamps. People have to rely on social services to survive. That doesn't develop their self-esteem and confidence," he said. "If you don't know where you're sleeping at night, it's hard to go to school rested and give it your all."
Grensky is a supporter of a variety of causes — including Redemption Ridge, which helps female survivors of sex trafficking, and Sparrow Clubs, in which kids help raise money to aid other kids with medical needs. But he said he hasn't had enough extra time and energy to be as involved as he would like.
"This job takes it out of you. A lot of times when I leave here, I just collapse in a chair and then go to bed. The reality is it's pretty draining. It takes it out of you," he said.
Despite the exhausting nature of the job, Grensky said he is humbled and grateful that Southern Oregon residents have supported him.
He served as a senator in the Oregon Legislature beginning in 1989 and was first elected to the Jackson County Circuit Court in 2006. He was re-elected as judge in 2012.
"I'm so grateful. Even though this has been a tough job, I'm very grateful to the people of Southern Oregon for believing in me all these years," Grensky said.
Grensky said he plans to finish out his term so voters can choose his replacement. If he resigned before his term ends, Gov. Kate Brown would appoint his replacement. Her appointee would then run during the next election with the advantage of being the incumbent, he said.
Although many voters are unfamiliar with judicial candidates and don't vote in those races, Grensky said election campaigns give residents the opportunity to get to know the candidates. Candidates go door-to-door, participate in candidate forums, meet with people in the community and do interviews with the media.
Whoever runs for judge will have a daunting task, he said.
Grensky said a study found that, per capita, Jackson County Circuit Court is the most overworked county court system in the state. The local system needs three more judges, but doesn't have enough money or space, he said.
Even if Jackson County added more judges, the Jackson County Jail lacks enough beds, Grensky said.
"We have big-city problems with a small-community budget," he said.