This article explores those special judicial qualities that set an example for our legal profession.
Reading thousands of pages of judicial decisions in law school ingrains a high bar for judges in the real world of everyday court proceedings. In that world there are some judges that meet that standard and they deserve high praise. One everyman-judge who deserves accolades much more than others who publicly have received honors is the Honorable Alan C. Bonebrake from Washington County. He modestly states all he did as a judge (he is now retired) is call the balls and strikes. A short synopsis of Judge Bonebrake's special qualities is easily stated. He --
1. Always read the materials submitted by the lawyers. Thus, he understood the facts and rules of law to be applied. Indeed, he had separate baskets holding those pleadings in his chambers dubbed "brainer" and "no brainer" which told me that he knew some submissions deserved the application of real judicial thought.
2. Always demonstrated an absence of bias. Unfair bias is rampant in our profession. Downtown lawyers or special friends are deemed smarter than other diligent lawyers in many courtrooms around the state.
3. Always treated the lawyers before him with respect even if they didn't deserve it.
4. In trials made it his business to actually apply the rules of evidence we learned in law school rather than 'winging it'.
5. Maintained a cordial relationship with the local bar without partisianship or unnecessary enmeshment.
6. If he didn't have the time nor patience to do a "brainer" he confessed that fact and simply postponed the matter on his own volition until he could do justice and be fair to all.
7. Demonstrated extraordinary skill and patience as a settling judge. Indeed, this was his special interest and is a judicial quality so often absent when sorely needed. Trials are the most expensive and inefficient way to resolve disputes.
8. Actually had the intellectual skills to do his job. One must know one's limitations.
Before waxing eloquent ad naseum if I haven't already, I would like to turn to the Honorable Robert Selander from Clackamas County. Judge Selander has all the skills and facilities enumerated above along with a special humility. I had the good fortune to draw him on one of my first real, somewhat complex jury trials. He was fairly new to the bench then. He made it his mission to be sure he fully and completely understood each and every new legal argument that inevitably comes up during a trial. Some of the issues were not very well understood by anybody in the courtroom. Rather than winging it because "one can always appeal....................", he would have the lawyers in his chambers together to brainstorm the legal issue and if no obvious answer was to be had, he would allow time for the issue to be further briefed in a common sense manner so the trial would reach the right result for everybody.
At the appellate level there is the Honorable William L.Richardson. Though appeals are necessarily a more sterile event, one can still discern judicial excellence in addition to their written opinions. Along with a respectful demeanor on the bench and thoughtful opinions, Judge Richardson had a role in starting the Appellate Settlement Conference Program. Some judges feel that their only obligation to our profession is to call those balls and strikes then go fishing. Others, like Judge Richardson, demonstrate a higher calling to our legal system and act to improve the system in a way that benefits us all, but the public in particular.
One fine judge lamented there is a certain isolation on the bench. The losers glare or pout and the winners leave without a word, constrained by decorum, to dine with their clients in celebration. The Oregon State Bar opines that lawyers are partners with the judiciary. Certainly that is true in many locations around the state. Local bar associations and the Inns of Court provide vehicles for that partnership. Here is a toast to those judges who toil in that perhaps thankless isolation, for the lowest salaries of any other state in the union.