Judge Joel Penoyar set to exit the bench



I am just so grateful that I was given the opportunity to do what I enjoyed most,” said Penoyar.

After a disappointing year teaching abroad in 1971, his BA degree from the University of Michigan, looked like it might not be the life Penoyar was looking for. The young Penoyar was seeking another avenue to highlight his skills and from a suggestion by his father entered law school.

Penoyar graduated the University of Oregon Law School in 1974 and returned to South Bend, a year later was admitted to the Washington Bar.

It was luck that I landed my first job as a district court judge. Only a year out of school, and unemployed, the previous judge had vacated the office and left it open. I took the opportunity.”

Working as an attorney from 1975 to 1988, handling a general practice and serving as city attorney for South Bend, he was also a part time District Court Judge and Superior Court Commissioner during that same time period. Appointed in 1976 to the District Court, Judge Penoyar took on the challenge and found that it suited him well.

I like the position of judge. Able to help the lawyers come to a decision that would be the best fit for both sides. I do not mind being an advocate for people, but like to be the one to settle things more.”

Over the years, Penoyar has heard a vast amount of arguments but favored those cases where his ability to make sound decisions and provide a win/win situation on behalf of both parties.

It was the cases that involved kids, abuse of kids, that were the worst for me. You deal with people that are having problems, those are the worst cases.”

He ran in a contested election for Superior Court in 1988 and served as the Superior Court Judge for Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties until 2005, when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals. He was elected to a six-year term in 2006. As a lawyer, Judge Penoyar served on the Board of Bar Examiners. For the Superior Court Judges Association, he served on the Rural Courts Committee; Courts and Community Committee; Project 2001; Ethics Committee; and the Ethics Advisory Committee. He is a former member of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, a board that handles discipline for judges statewide.

Finishing up his responsibilities on the Court of Appeals, Judge Penoyar primarily works out of his office, taking trips north to Tacoma to hear arguments.

It is a mistake for judges to attempt to mold the law to fit their own personal or political beliefs. More important than a “judicial philosophy” is a judicial work ethic: I work hard to write decisions that are understandable, correct, complete and that make sense in our real world.”

Outside of the legal system, Penoyar fills some of his extra time with coaching, helping out with track and field, the shot put event, and encouraging and coaching weight training as well as assisting with the girl’s basketball team for South Bend High School.

The Judge, along with his wife, Betsy, have raised five children in South Bend and have been very active in Youth Soccer, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and numerous other local organizations. Penoyar is a volunteer firefighter and first responder and has taught domestic violence classes and judicial ethics classes.

At looking into retirement, Penoyar has many paths that he may venture; his son, William is a layer in South Bend and he may find some things to do there, he may also continue to work with the Court of Appeals, but what really seems to drive him is working with the youth of the community and his grandchildren. Judge Penoyar will officially retire at the end of February this year.

I hope to continue working with the kids after I retire.”