Lest Ye Be Judged

Marc Abrams

As a diversion from the Governor’s race, let’s talk judges for a minute, shall we?

For the last few weeks, folks have heard quite a bit about the Leslie Robert-Youlee You controversy, but there are two other judicial contests in Multnomah County.

First, there’s the run off between Kathleen Payne and Cheryl Albrecht. Payne is a former prosecutor now with my shop, the Department of Justice. Albrecht has spent the last several years learning the judicial trade as a permanent pro tem in the Courthouse. There, she has reached out to our diverse community, and has taken a humanist approach to her job.

No offense to Payne, who is a qualified candidate, but Cheryl Albrecht gets my support. Albecht’s predispositions are important from a "blue" perspective. If every judge applied the law precisely the same, there would be no reason to have judges. Computers could replace them. Application of the law requires understanding of the human condition and, in that regard, I have faith in Cheryl Albrecht.

Then there’s what the Tribune calls the "thundering herd" of lawyers who filed for the short dash for the seat opened up when Judge Clifford Freeman died a week before the filing deadline. To my mind, there’s a front tier and a back-of-the-pack on this one, based as much on who can assemble money and a coalition for this seven week sprint. Then, way behind, there’s Jim Leuenberger, a far-right ideologue who ran for the state Supreme Court two years ago and took on the cause this spring of a fringe gubernatorial candidate trying to knock other candidates off the ballot because they did not pay their filing fees in gold or silver. I’m not kidding. Also trailing, I suspect, are Charles Best, who is not even currently practicing in Oregon, Theodore Sims, Christopher Wright (more a tax and estate lawyer than a trial lawyer), and Ulanda Watkins, who, a mere ten years in practice appears to be more tuing up for a future run than running for the present.

That leaves the front four: law and order candidate James McIntyre, former candidate (she lost in 1998 to Jan Wyers) Mary Overgaard, Judith Hudson Matarazzo, and former public defender and family lawyer Mark Kramer. Though I don’t know Matarazzo personally, I suspect she, Overgaard and Kramer all have the predispositions and life views to gain the acceptance of progressive voters, but Mark Kramer’s my choice in this one. Overgaard has done admirable work in womens’ right and gay and lesbian rights, but her race eight years ago still carries scars that will be hard to overcome, and which saw newspapers withdrawing their support from her. Matarazzo has considerable backing within the progressive Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. But Mark Kramer also has OTLA support, a broader legal resume than Matarazzo’s (primarily auto accident work and some more complex tort litigation), has been a public defender, a lawyer at St. Andrew’s legal clinic, a family lawyer and, as importantly, has been fighting for school funding and numerous other progressive causes in Portland for more than 20 years. He’s backed by several of the sitting judges, but also by folks like Diane Rosenbaum, Tim Nesbitt and Bev Stein. For my vote, Mark Kramer stands out over a few others who could do the job and several who do not merit consideration.

Comments

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    Oops. I forgot to log on properly. This is my post, just if anyone thought we published anonymous editorials.

    Marc

  • KISS (unverified)
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    I have much admiration for your pick, I am not in Multnomah county. If I were, I would always choose to vote for a defense attorney. I see an obvious Conflict of Interest with many judges, police and district attorneys, of which I call the " Unholy trinity".

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    Marc, when you say of Mary Overgaard that "her race eight years ago still carries scars that will be hard to overcome" you fail to point out that she was the victim of a smear campaign, not the perpetrator. She was accused of lacking a "judicial temperament" by standards that, were they enforced uniformly, would no doubt send a bunch of our male judges packing. Most of these accusations were spread by a whispering campaign that, unfortunately, led the Oregonian to retract their previous endorsement of her without citing any of her critics by name.

    I know Mary because she was my precedecessor's legal policy advisor at BOLI and continued to work for me for several years after I was elected before taking a job with the City of Portland precisely in order to help prepare for a judicial career. She particularly played a major role in overhauling Oregon's Family Leave Law, which extended coverage to 125,000 additional workers.

    And, in case anyone is wondering, she is supporting my opponent in the current campaign for the supreme court, so please understand that I have no reason to vouch for her other than the fact that I think she would make a good judge and that she got a raw deal the first time she ran.

  • Andy from Beaverton (unverified)
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    Marc,

    You scared me today when I was agreeing more with you than Rob :) Good show anyway.

    Speaking of 'Lest Ye Be Judged', I recently heard a good analysis of judging people. If we can't negatively judge someone or their actions, how can we positively judge someone or their actions.

    I think you are missing the plural here: " womens’ right " and shouldn't it be "women's rights"?

  • Tamerlane (unverified)
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    Here's the thing. I am politically active, and have the goal of getting into law school in the next year. I am not a total insider, of course; but I am much more so than almost all other voters (statistically speaking). And, I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE. More importantly, I definetly lack the requiste knowledge to make a decision about who'd be a good judge -- especially since, I feel, competence and impartiality should be as important as politics, despite my deeply partisan nature. So, I hate the idea that we have elections for judges. We should use the federal model, I think.

  • KISS (unverified)
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    "We should use the federal model, I think." Ahh the reward system or how to stack the deck. Sorry, but as young as you are[ not a slam] Think of judges as the very last piece of democracy. If you have judges from the prosecuting end of justice where will their prejudices lie? As I pointed out in my last comment, The defense has very little going for them in today's climate. The jury, in most cases, follow the trail outlined by the judge. The slippery slope has become slippery in the last few years. The Federal Supreme court is a perfect example of how our court system has deteriorated over the past few short years. As I also stated Marc Abrams is well respected by me.

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    Is Mark Kramer related to Rob Kramer?

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    Thanks Marc for this post. I have long made up my mind to get behind and stay behind Cheryl, but the background information on the other race helps.

    Any thoughts on the write-in(s?) against Leslie Roberts?

  • davidwendell (unverified)
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    I strongly disagree with your comment that:

    "If every judge applied the law precisely the same, there would be no reason to have judges."

    You seem to imply that it is preferable for the meaning of a law to be unknown. IMHO the meaning of a well-written law is not ambigious. Judges would still be needed to apply the law to the facts of the specific situation.

    Are you supporting one judicial candidate over the others because he/she has a wacky, unorthodox manner of interpreting laws. This sounds like a nightmare candidate to me.

  • Pete Forsyth (unverified)
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    Tamerlane said: I definetly lack the requiste knowledge to make a decision about who'd be a good judge -- especially since, I feel, competence and impartiality should be as important as politics, despite my deeply partisan nature.

    Your concerns are good ones. I'll resist the temptation, though, to discuss the process for putting judges in office. This deep in the election season, let's instead consider the best way to approach the system we currently have.

    Judges must consider complex situations against complex laws. It's not an easy job. As you correctly point out, having a certain political slant - even if it's the "right" one - is not sufficient to do it well.

    Assessing intangibles like "temperament" and "fairness" is a difficult job for voters, but not an impossible one. Looking at a candidate's experience and endorsers is a good place to start.

    In legislative and executive races, we voters are accustomed to looking for endorsements from people/organizations that share our political views. In judicial races, I would contend that endorsements are equally important, but in a slightly different way: I would suggest looking for candidates with endorsements from a wide political spectrum (left to right), and from people with whom a candidate has worked very closely.

    If a candidate has managed to draw wide support without capturing controversial headlines over the course of her career, so much the better. I'd contend that indicates a dedication to doing the hard work of serving our community, without abusing one's relatively unaccountable position to drive a personal agenda.

    Finally, I will highlight one advantage of having judges stand for election: it gives them an incentive to reach out to the community, and therein lies an opportunity to hold them accountable, or to get a better sense of how they will approach their job. Judicial campaigns have forums, house parties, email lists, and fundraisers just like other campaigns; to those with the time and inclination, I strongly encourage you to get involved and informed.

    These choices are not easy ones, but they are vitally important. Multnomah County is hurting for cash, but must still provide essential services, and maintain accountability and public safety throughout the legal process. Public servants must to make the most of limited resources, and judges play a vital role in the fabric of our community.

    -Pete Forsyth Campaign Manager Citizens to Elect Judge Pro Tem Cheryl Albrecht

  • Mister Tee (unverified)
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    Marc Abrams writes, "Law and order candidate James McIntyre..."

    Aren't they all "law and order" candidates? They are running for judge, right?

  • Rusty (unverified)
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    Marc,

    Nice side-stepping of the fracas surrounding Roberts. I just put up a post about her campaign at the Portland Metroblog that I'd be interested in getting more lawyers to weigh in on... Or, if you don't want to comment on that, perhaps you'll at least weigh in on what you think her conduct says about her...

  • Rusty (unverified)
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    Oh, and why no real discussion on the merits of Jim McIntyre as a candidate, other than to blanketly label him as "law and order" (which really says nothing about what kind of judge he'd be...)?

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    I have to say a word on behalf of Kathleen Payne, whom I know personally. I consider Kathleen to be a person of really fine judicial temperament, one whose "predispositions" are to fairness and the equal protection of the law. That's what I'm looking for in a judge. Just because Kathleen dresses and acts like an adult is no reason to consider her less open-minded, less fair, or less sympathetic to the human condition than her opponent.

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    Stephanie, your backhanded slur is bizarre. I defy you to name a way in which Cheryl Albrecht dresses or acts that is in some way immature or childlike. Moreover, I question Kathleen Payne's predisposition to fairness when her entire résumé is in criminal prosecution.

  • Willard Freeman (unverified)
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    Based on Mary Overgaard's anti-union activities while HR Director for Nationwide Insurance, I will never vote for her.

    Further, her totally unprofessional behavior and emotional outbursts while in that position clearly make her unqualified to be a judge.

    Example? At a management called meeting to oppose the union in 2002, she chased an employee down the hall screaming hysterically after the meeting ended because he tape recorded the meeting.

    Management said at the start of each of their scheduled meetings that this was a chance for the "record to be set straight." If so, why the objection to it being taped? About 50 people were at each meeting.

    Further, on her watch as HR Director, at least one employee was terminated for her suspected union support and a grievnace was filed with the NLRB.

    So, if you want a rabid anti-union judge, vote for Overgaard.

  • lhmpdx (unverified)
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    I'm a long time criminal defense attorney with a slightly different perspective than others here. It is simply incorrect to assume that if you want a fair judge, you want a former defense attorney rather than a former prosecutor.

    The Oregon bench is full of former defense attorneys who, soon after they were appointed or elected judges, became strongly state oriented. For example, many current defense attorneys refuse to appear before Judge Michael McElligott, a former public defender. Sadly, there are many more examples.

    I believe the two prosecutors at issue here, Jim McIntyre and Kathleen Payne, have the intelligence, temperment and life experience to be excellent judges. Since their professional careers generally involve serious criminals, they are often willing to give a break to those who, perhaps due to circumstances and bad choices, are caught up in the criminal justice system. I have seen it with both of them - many times.

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