No, this is not about Judge Dredd, but it is very close. This is about how one judge can conduct an unchecked reign of terror without accountability, while dispensing caprice rather than justice.
The Honorable Michael McElligott was a district judge with very little private practice experience prior to the 'integration' of the Oregon court system. With the integration he became a full-fledged 'real' judge when Oregon dropped the distinction between district (the lower) and circuit (the higher) judges. Shortly thereafter, the Honorable Michael McElligott became Presiding judge largely because no one else wanted the job. Thus, a local Napoleon was born.
I first encountered Judge McElligott when I was barely a cub lawyer myself. A set-over of a trial date was my quest and the grounds reasonable. A local lawyer had died, I inherited the case and needed a set-over to do discovery, which had been neglected by the deceased lawyer due to his illness. The kindly court clerk advised against it. Quizzically, I inquired why; she smiled and repeated the caution. Ignoring the advise, I marched to Michael McElligott's courtroom and applied my postponement papers. Hell, fire and brimstone came my way, and his abrupt departure left me standing there with ears burned and a bewildered mien. An experienced local lawyer observed the sorry affair and reported the event to the Bench-Bar committee without my knowledge. Suitably chastened, the Honorable Michael McElligott spotted me in the court hallway shortly thereafter, told me he was sorry, and that he even liked me (even though he knew me little).
In the years that followed, I observed his courtroom process and was duly impressed. Judge McElligott would come out on Summary Judgment Motion day, crisply announce to the parties at the counsel table that he had read the submitted materials and was prepared to rule. He then would identify the submitted issues that did not have merit and speak eruditely about the single issue on which he was prepared to rule. If one of the lawyers protested that the ignored issues mattered and would attempt to explain why, Judge McElligott would use the same Hell, Fire and Brimstone approach I had experienced years before, brush them off and decide the case on the solitary issue Judge McElligott thought important or controlling.
Then my turn followed. He did the same thing to me, identifying the reason my other issues were not worthy of discussion which was because a judge had not signed a particular order. "But, the judge had signed the order in question", I feebly enjoined, and I had submitted a certified copy of the signed order with my Summary Judgment package. Judge McElligott did not want to hear me either even though this was the controlling document of the whole case. Out he marched leaving me there with only an appeal.
My light bulb finally turned on. What Judge McElligott was doing on these cases was reading only a fraction of what he was provided. Then he would identify the single, easy or abstruse issue he decided to discuss at oral argument, but NOT EVEN READ THE OTHER ARGUMENTS or materials! Thereafter, I closely watched him doing this each time I was in his court. As he brushed off lawyer after lawyer, I would ask them in the hallway afterwards about the ignored arguments. Each time I saw that the ignored arguments were the controlling issues actually submitted by those lawyers who received the brunt of the brush-off. If the particular lawyer would withstand the intimidation and assert the ignored arguments in a second effort, Judge McElligott would resort to his familiar tactics. He would hint about holding the lawyer in contempt or abruptly leave the bench while the lawyer stood there with the lawyer's point-making finger frozen uselessly in the air.
Later, Judge McElligott was found to have certain medical issues. Much like Judge Shirley Field, Judge Lee Johnson, and legions of other dysfunctional judges, they eventually retire or disappear leaving justice as just so much jetsam or flotsam.
There was universal disgust at the Napoleonic jurisprudence of the Honorable Michael McElligott. At a summer outdoor wedding reception, a Portland judge came up to me even though he didn't know me, he just knew I was a local lawyer. He expressed his dismay in strong terms at the outrageous actions of Judge McElligott. He described the various sad experiences of Portland lawyers at the hands of this local judge.
Recently, in 2006 our Bar, through the Board of Governors, has reversed a 2004 Bar Board of Governors decision to create a regular, statewide judicial evaluation program.
Watch For More on the Subject of Judicial Accountability
Subsequent articles will explore the fine points of judicial accountability, the effectiveness of the Commission on Judicial Fitness & Disability and the Oregon Constitution which permits the Supreme Court of Oregon to censure or otherwise address the issues of judicial dysfunction in Oregon. The question is whether anybody is really minding the judicial store in Oregon?
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