Nena Cook: Committed Justice for the Supreme Court

Nova Newcomer

When I travel outside the tri-county area, many people feel their voices aren't heard and they are invisible. I tell them that this is a statewide office. I take seriously the time I have spent in those communities. — Nena Cook

One of the most striking things about attorney Nena Cook is her laser focus on how law can positively impact the everyday person. More specifically, in the case of her candidacy for Oregon's highest court, Cook is committed to the concept that the bench must be a "co-equal branch" of government -- an accessible and in touch branch of government protecting the rule of law and Oregonians' access to justice.

This concept of access has deep roots for Cook, whose first experience with the law was when her parents divorced when she was young and economic hardship set in for her mother. And it was the generosity of people in the legal profession who helped her single mother-led family survive those hard times -- illustrating the importance of access to the law and cementing for Cook a career of giving back.

A hard worker, Cook's first job was at the age of 12 to help support her family. She worked and paid her way through Gonzaga University, while also playing basketball there, before attending Willamette University Law School. Cook has practiced law for more than 20 years representing individuals, consumers, family-owned businesses, unions and union members. She was co-counsel on a first-of-its-kind in the nation case where it was ruled that an insurance company had to cover the autism treatment for the son in the family she represented. Serving since 2007 as a Pro-Tem judge (a volunteer position in which she she sits on the bench 1 day per month), Cook was reappointed in 2010 for another 3 year term and has never been asked by a party to recuse herself from a case.

But Cook's experience extends beyond her practice work and work as a Judge — she has also made a substantial commitment to giving back through her own personal commitment to everyone's equal access to the law. As President of the Oregon State Bar, she oversaw programs to better fund indigent defense and advocate and maintain funding for the judiciary. She also helped develop a leadership college to recruit and train more female lawyers as well as lawyers of color. Privately, she has volunteered for the ACLU, St. Andrew's Legal Clinic and Metro Crisis Line. Cook says, "What law has done for me is given me the privilege of helping people -- serving others."

Cook brings a weighty sincerity to her candidacy for the Supreme Court saying, "I have a great deal of respect for Oregonians -- the differences that make us strong and the similarities that bring us together. I want people to know I have been in their community and I will take those memories and experiences with me to represent the entire state (as a member of the Oregon Supreme Court)."

Not only does Cook bring a depth and breadth of experience (over 21 years in private practice) not often seen on Oregon's highest court -- these seats are often filled by former Court of Appeals Judges -- she also brings a vision for how the Court should be engaged with Oregonians. She supports recent efforts to bring the Court to various communities around the state to allow more people access to the workings of the Court. Cook explains, "When I travel outside the tri-county area, many people feel their voices aren't heard and they are invisible. I tell them that this is a statewide office. I take seriously the time I have spent in those communities."

I mentioned in a previous post that I was born the same year Justice Betty Roberts was appointed to the Supreme Court and though politically aware from a young age, I never knew the name of Betty Roberts. It's exciting to see the caliber of female attorneys and Judges that are running for bench seats due to her groundbreaking achievement nearly 40 years ago. However, what I think is particularly compelling for Cook's candidacy is that she believes in the critical role of each branch of government in our state and is prepared to bring her extensive legal experience to the Court (along with a wide variety of endorsements across political lines) and a willingness to make the Court's work fair and true to the law; but she is also committed to making the Court more accessible to the majority of Oregonians who perhaps feel that the Court is not connected to their reality. We need Nena Cook's experience and commitment on the Oregon Supreme Court.

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