New court, new judge

Clare Keithley joins the Butte County bench amid major renovation

Clare Keithley

Clare Keithley

Clare Keithley may not look the part of a tough gang-crimes prosecutor, though that’s her current occupation. And she’s certainly more feminine than the gruff Judge Judy. Yet, soon, the petite Chico native will be giving up her briefcase for a gavel.

“I look forward to new challenges,” she said.

Those challenges will be two-fold, it turns out, as the newest Butte County judge enters the courthouse in the midst of a major remodel that began last week and is expected to continue until the end of December.

The old end of the courthouse—to the right after entering the rotunda—will be transformed over the next five months to include a hearing room, three interview rooms and two new judge chambers, among other improvements.

“We have been planning this for many, many years,” Court Executive Officer Sharol Strickland said. In fact, a number of personnel recently moved into a newly finished portion of the west wing basement in order to accommodate the current construction. (The basement addition opened in spring after many months of delay due to water damage during construction.)

So when Keithley, who works at the Butte County District Attorney’s Office, starts her new job—likely in mid-September—she’ll be coming into a crowded house, with judges sharing chambers and courtrooms.

“I’ll be happy with whatever space they have for me,” Keithley said. “Eventually it will all be finished and we’ll all be comfortable.”

Until then, there will be construction noise, although Strickland said the crews have been mindful of the buildings’ inhabitants and run jackhammers in the wee morning hours. And crowds likely will be a more common sight.

That’s because four courtrooms will be closed during the remodel, and cases will have to be consolidated into the remaining six. Strickland added, however, that some cases have been moved to Paradise and the old Juvenile Hall to free up space in the main courthouse building.

Another way the court found to cut back on overcrowding involves scheduling.

“We’ll often have several cases set for trial on the same day, but by the time you get to that day, a resolution has been met,” Strickland said. “So, now we’re doing better pretrial management and tracking.”

Keithley is primed to join the Butte County bench smack in the middle of all the construction. She’s not letting it get to her, though.

“I’m very excited about the appointment, very honored as well, by the governor’s trust in me,” she said. Keithley is the 11th Butte County judge, and Strickland said she hopes the area will be appointed one more next year.

For her part, Keithley—a single 45-year-old whose father is well-known local poet George Keithley—is looking forward to the challenge of broadening her scope of law beyond criminal cases. She’s quick to note that her heart is here, at home.

“I left Butte County briefly, and was a prosecutor in Sonoma,” she said. “I have a lot more job satisfaction in Butte County because it’s my home. I was interested in the appointment because I see the issues of growth that the county is facing, and I want to apply my experience to the problems that come before the court.”