If there were a hall of fame for smart, tough and ethical judges, U.S. District Judge James Redden would be in it for his stewardship of federal salmon-recovery efforts over the past decade. It came as no surprise last week when the 82-year-old said he is retiring before 2014, but his shoes will be hard to fill.

One of ReddenÂ’s strengths is his analytical process that has held federal agencies to compliance with the law. Whoever replaces him will have a solid foundation of decisions on which to base future rulings. This provides some degree of optimism that the state will continue in the right direction on hydro-system and habitat management.

Even so, an idea proposed by the state of Oregon and salmon-recovery interests deserves serious consideration. They are asking for appointment of a special settlement judge to oversee salmon survival efforts. This is a good idea.

There is a long precedent for naming such judicial overseers for complex and specialized topics. Such judges are able to give their undivided attention to crafting approaches that focus on desired outcomes.

Redden is expected to make a decision on the settlement judge request in coming weeks. A positive response could cap his proud legacy of responsible jurisprudence.

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