Interestingly,  the Oregon State Bar is set up like a parallel government, but is,  to many, as mysterious as a parallel universe.   The Oregon State Bar has a president, a legislature and a sort of judiciary.  The Board of Governors  is the policy-making body and operates like the executive branch.  The House of Delegates  is the legislative body of the Bar.  The judicial branch of the Oregon State Bar requires some explaining.  More on that some other time.   Operationally, the Bar is run by the Executive Director, Karen Garst, who gets paid about $160,000 annually, in addition to expenses and got a 5% raise last year.  The Bar has a budget of about fifteen million dollars.

The Oregon State Bar is a public corporation "as an instrumentality of the Oregon Supreme Court".  Even though the Bar is formally partners with the judiciary in the legal system and an instrumentality, there is no record of any member of the Oregon Supreme Court attending a Bar Board of Governors  meeting in the last five years.     The Oregon State Bar's Mission is:

"...to serve justice by promoting respect for the rule of law, by improving the quality of legal services, and by increasing access to justice." 

  On the subject of leadership the Bar states:  "Leadership  --  The bar will actively pursue its mission.  (see above)  This requires the bar and all individual members to exert leadership to advance their goals."  There you have it.  All individual members are supposed to exert leadership.  Let's sift that down.  As of 2007 there are 12,805 active lawyers in Oregon.  Five thousand of those are in Multnomah County (Portland) which has had eight of the  Oregon Bar presidents in the last ten years.  The only two exceptions during that time was Larry Rew from Pendleton in 2000 and William Carter from Medford in 2004.  The Executive Director of the Bar and  Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court  have been the same during the last ten years.  This means the leadership team for the Oregon State Bar for the last ten years has been about the same.  So, how do we measure how well they have done in promoting excellence, the Rule of Law and in providing protection to the public; the other stated objectives of the Oregon State Bar? 

The Judiciary :      Oregon's trial judges are among the lowest paid in the entire United States.  In an informal poll taken over the last few years, on a scale of 1-10 with the highest rating being a 10, Oregon trial judges were rated between 2-4. Many judges come from the ranks of failed private practices or from the deputy district attorney ranks.   Former Chief Justice Wallace Carson has been in charge for over twelve years.  During the budget crises of 2003 he cut the courts down to a four day week, caused the court reporters to be fired on the spot, reduced the salaries of court staff yet took no salary reduction of his own.  The Oregon legislature specifically stated to the Bar Board of Governors that Justice Carson had a "bunker" mentality when it came to dealing with them during that crises.   The time it takes on appeal in Oregon is almost four times beyond the American Bar Association standard.  The Rule of Law is the requirement that a judge rule according to existing, recognized decisions along with applicable statutes and procedural rules.  The Rule of Law in Oregon is of questionable viability.  Oregon's trial judges often rule according to how they feel that day (this is known as "legal realism") and if the lawyers don't like it then "...they can always appeal."  There are documented instances where trial judges rule without even reading the legal briefs provided, much less the cases cited therein.  Recently, it has been discovered and documented that even the Oregon Supreme Court issues their written decisions without even having, much less reading, the entire court record before them. 

The Bar states it "...is commited to accountability for its decisions and actions and will provide regular means of communicating its achievements to its various constituencies."   There is only one house organ, The Bulletin, and it has not substantially changed in the last ten years (nor has it's editor).  This publication is not friendly to a dissenting point of view from that of the entrenched Portland Bar view of things. 

In 2004, the Bar Board of Governors voted to institute a formal performance evaluation system for Oregon's judiciary statewide.  At a meeting with Justice Carson on August 11, 2005, Justice Carson advised the President of the Bar that "He would like judges to be involved in the bar's discussion of judicial performance evaluations."  In 2006, the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors decided to reverse the decision to have statewide judicial performance evaluations.  There has been no response to a formal written inquiry to the Bar as to why the 2004 decision to have judicial evaluations was reversed in 2006. 

Bar Leadership and the New Bar Center  --  Bar Dues in Oregon are among the highest of the Western States.  In 2002, the Bar had 84 employees.  In 2003, a memo by the Executive Director stated "There is certainly still space in the current building for expansion should the Board (of Governors) decide to add any programs."  In 2004, the Bar only had 82 employees.  In 2005, Bar President Dennis Rawlinson along with Al Menasche, both from Portland,  arranged for the Oregon State Bar to purchase and build two new buildings in Tigard for $19 million dollars.  The existing building in Lake Oswego cost only $2 million to build. 

In a survey taken in 2002, almost half of the Oregon State Bar membership believed there was bias in the Bar's disciplinary system.

In 2007, famed former CEO of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca, wrote a book entitled, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?  There he asks, "Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening?   Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder.  We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff,..."    One of the most common reactions from Oregon lawyers all over the state when asked about their state professional organization is:   "I hate the Bar."   This sentiment bubbles up with good reason.  Our judiciary are low performers with no connection to either the public, themselves, nor the lawyers appearing before them.  The Oregon State Bar is a Portland oligarchy.  The public has no respect for lawyers, nor do we for each other.  The Oregon State Bar and our profession are being steered over a cliff and no one is doing anything to stop the wreck from happening.  We are all simply too comfortable to take the time to notice nor act.  Bad things happen when good people do nothing. 








Posted on Saturday, April 28, 2007 at 09:51AM by Registered CommenterLAUREN PAULSON in | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Lauren we are trying to get ahold of you.We have your petitions for rehearing.

May 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMerna S.

Correction: Oregon judges have recently become THE lowest paid trial judges in the nation.

May 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

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