The 2007 Oregon legislature granted Oregon's judges a raise of nineteen percent effective July 1, 2007 with 3 percent deferred until July 1, 2008. Undoubtedly, they deserve this raise. Oregon lawyers and the public deserve some judicial accountability.
During the 2006 American Bar Association Day in Washington D.C., U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told bar leaders that "...the judiciary is under assault in a way that (she has not) seen before." In a May 20, 2007 interview with Chris Wallace on Fox news, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said that she has never seen a time when the judiciary was subject to such universal criticism.
So, I wrote a nice long, polite letter to Justice Ginsburg pointing out from the street level why there is such disappointment and hostility towards the judiciary in Oregon. She did not get back to me. (This letter is available for your perusal upon request. It is a good letter.)
One way for the public to obtain respect for the judiciary is to demand judicial accountability. One way to do that is to withhold raises through their elected representatives. Oregon's judges went five years without a raise and were the lowest paid judiciary in the entire United States. Our Chief Justice was making (v. earning) $107,600 per annum and will now be paid $128,556. Your local Oregon Circuit Court Judge was making $98,800 and will be paid $112,488 when the raises become effective next year.
Another way for the public to demand judicial accountability is through a statewide program of judicial evaluations which the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors (BOG) approved in 2004. To demonstrate that such a judicial evaluation program was viable, I provided the committee with the formal evaluation program for Oregon's Administrative Law Judges. This BOG effort was led by your Public Board of Governors Member Jon Hill. Jon, a school administrator, is one of several BOG members that is serving an eight year term on your 'Board of Directors' where the actual term is four years. Before being canned in 2004, I formally predicted by letter to Jon Hill and the BOG Committee on the Judiciary that political correctness would stop the Bar's effort to have a formal statewide judicial evaluation program. The reason for my cynical formal prediction was that I had seen how Karen Garst, the Bar's Executive Director, and a hearty band of Portland's influential lawyers had pandered to Oregon's Supreme Court and Oregon's judiciary in the past. It ain't a pretty picture.
The formal statewide judicial evaluation program was presented to the Bar's Board of Governors at their July 15, 2005 meeting. Then Chief Justice Carson announced his retirement. Then certain members of the Bar's Board of Governors (think political correctness and Portland) met with incoming Chief Justice Paul De Muniz on the issue of statewide judicial evaluations in Oregon.
The coup de grace came in the Bar's Board of Governor's meeting on November 18, 2006. Mr. Hill identified "...a list of issues that should be pursued in the future. ... The committee continues to believe that judicial evaluations are a good idea, but recognizes that this is not the time to pursue them." (Open Session BOG Minutes dated 11/18/07) Thus, this noble effort at holding Oregon judges (and justices) accountable died.
It is hard for me to understand what wimps Oregon lawyers are when it comes to the judiciary. On the other hand, for trial lawyers, the judiciary is our stock-in-trade. So, on that note here is my small proposal for change to obtain some measure of judicial accountability:
Small Proposal: I propose that every time an Oregon judge (including justices) rules on any matter at any judicial level, that the judge certify in writing what portion of the file has been read, what cases the judge has read, certify the components of the record in the case and certify that the judge has read the entire record (or what portions thereof that were necessary to review) before ruling. Now, when Oregon's judiciary are getting paid to do their job, at least in some respects, let's make them earn it.