From the trenches of the justice system: Thoughts on Oregon elections

It happens every election cycle that non-law friends and others may be casting about on races on which they may not be familiar. Sometimes I weigh in–especially when bad ballot measures or obvious choices make me speak.

I wear my biases on my sleeve. I represent consumers in hard, complicated cases in the civil justice system. I am the guy who jumps in to represent Oregon veterans’ on their toxic injury claims against KBR. Ditto when Comcast illegally bills late fees or when trade schools sell students a bill of goods and a sack of debts.

There are a few races that affect Oregon that may not be evident to a lot of voters. I’m leaving out the races on which I have no expertise. Portland mayor, for example, is a toss up to me, but I don’t claim any particular insight, so no one should care what I think.

Judicial races, the Attorney General race and Secretary of State are areas that impact the justice system in ways that may not be apparent. So for readers, friends, and web surfers, here is my thinking.

Oregon Supreme Court: Position 3 is a contested race between three highly-qualified people. Judge Sercombe sits on the Court of Appeals. Nena Cook is an attorney in private practice. Judge Richard Baldwin sits as a trial judge in Multnomah County. A disclaimer. All are qualified. All bring integrity and excellent skills to the race.

That said, Dick Baldwin is the clear pick for those of us concerned about individual access to justice, consumer protection and straight out common sense.

I have appeared in front of Judge Baldwin as an attorney for years. I have won issues in front of him, and I have lost them as well. That is beside the point. His demeanor and commitment to the justice system never seem to waiver. I’ve watched him sentence criminal offenders. I’ve seen him give measured and careful consideration to the plight of real people. That’s about all you can ask for in a judge.

Before he went on the bench, Judge Baldwin worked as a legal aid lawyer, representing people of modest means needing access to the justice system. That seems to color his work on the trial court bench. What he brings to the Supreme Court is a lot of experience in the trenches as a trial judge and legal aid lawyer. The Supreme Court needs former trial judges to balance those from other backgrounds.

The other contested judicial race is Court of Appeals Position 6. I know both Tim Volpert and Jim Egan. I do not know Allan Arlow, the third candidate. Of Tim and Jim, I can say both are capable, honest and good people. But here again, I think the obvious choice is my old friend Jim Egan, a trial judge from Linn County. The trial judge experience is important here again. So is a non-Portland perspective, as he comes from Linn County. Jim is another common sense guy. Before he went on the bench he represented injured people and did so with clarity and compassion. Like Dick Baldwin, he has great real-life experience that translates well on the bench.

Attorney General The other heavy race is Attorney General. Both Ellen Rosenblum and Dwight Holton are highly qualified. Both have strengths, and I think we will be fine no matter who wins. I like Dwight’s energy a lot. That said, I am voting for Ellen Rosenblum.

The biggest is that Dwight’s commitment to Measure 11 (mandatory minimum sentences) is a huge deal breaker for me.

The advocates of mandatory sentences mean well. They truly believe that locking up criminals for long periods of time make us safer. For complicated reasons, I do not believe that. The short version: addiction, domestic violence, criminal system dysfunction cloud the penal model. The advocates of mandatory minimum sentences work on an oversimplified version of the problems.

I can’t sit silently while we sacrifice the State treasury for prison building at the expense of schools, roads and healthcare. It’s taken me a while to make up my mind on this race. To his credit Dwight Holton will do great things if he gets the nod, so I’m not worrying on this one. Ellen’s comments about mandatory sentencing (vaguely: need to rethink), medical marijuana (enforcement not a priority) or the death penalty (opposed personally, but as a judge handed it down) reflect views that I share, but I’m not sure whether she will push and, even if she does, how much room there is for reform. So worst case is that we remain at status quo with either of them.

The other question and priority is straightening out the Oregon Department of Justice. I’m not sure who is better suited for an overdue housecleaning, but it seems like we need a real adult to lead DOJ from its current problems to the pro-justice entity it should be.This may well be a toss-up. I can’t tell.

Secretary of State. This is a no-brainer. Kate Brown. Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve been a Kate fan since we were in law school together. Still, she’s the real deal, and we’re lucky to have her overseeing elections, ballot measures and the like. We need her. Enough said.

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