Municipal judge retires after 28 years
After 28 years serving as Wilsonville's Municipal Court Judge, J. Michael Gleeson, 72, passed the gavel and robes on to his successor and stepped into retirement.
While Gleeson conducted his final swearing-in at Wilsonville city hall Jan. 5, City Councilors and City staff thanked him publicly for his tireless service and wished him well on his future ventures. Despite health ailments compelling him to relinquish his duties, Gleeson says that he enjoyed his time with the City and wouldn't shy away from future involvement if his health allows.
Born and raised in Oregon, Gleeson graduated from Sunset High School in Cedar Hills in 1962. With college in his sights, Gleeson set off to the University of Oregon and earned a degree in psychology. But over the course of his undergraduate career, the practice of law piqued his interest, and he went on to graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1969.
From Eugene, Gleeson moved to Beaverton and established his practice, primarily handling transactional law. Despite residing in Wilsonville from 1982 through 1997 and becoming integrated with the city through participating on numerous boards and committees, Gleeson maintained his practice in Beaverton until he closed his office in 2013.
Despite having lived in Wilsonville for only 15 years, Gleeson has an affinity for the city and considers it a pivotal part of his history.
"Wilsonville, right when we moved there, was really starting to take off," Gleeson says. "I was involved in a lot of other things and I had always kind of wanted to be a judge. I attended a couple of the courts and it was OK and I liked it. I didn't really look at it as a diversion, I looked at it as something that I wanted to pursue to some extent if I could."
When a vacancy came open for the job in 1989, several members of the Wilsonville City Council approached Gleeson to ask if he would consider taking the job.
"I was quite active in the City (of Wilsonville) stuff before I became judge," Gleeson says. "I didn't look at it as a stepping stone to something else — I was just interested in the municipal courts."
Although Gleeson didn't have a professional history with municipal law — handling traffic infractions, some City ordinance violations and other non-criminal infractions — Gleeson quickly learned the system.
As Wilsonville was a small, agriculturally-based community, Gleeson says that things were fairly quiet in the early days of his judgeship. But if something non-criminal did happen in Wilsonville, it would likely end up in Gleeson's courtroom.
"When I first started, we had court one night a month and the docket would probably be between 20 and 30 items total, and out of those items there would be maybe one or two trials, maximum," Gleeson says. "Over the years, as the city grew and the population grew, the demographics of the city changed and with growth you got a whole new set of issues just logistic-wise with traffic."
Gleeson's duties and time commitment to the position expanded along with the city, more than tripling the amount of time it took to handle the load at some points. But Gleeson rolled with the development, holding court several times per week in two courtrooms with an additional judge.
"Right before I retired, the volume of tickets went down," Gleeson says. "So we didn't have two judges every night. But now it's back up, so it fluctuates."
But through it all, Gleeson tried to maintain an ethic of care while handling cases. In particular, when cases involving drivers with suspended licenses came before him, Gleeson tried to make a point to make them understand the charges and the steps it took to get relicensed
"Most people who are suspended would prefer not to be and most people, I feel, want to try to get their license back," Gleeson says. "If you can make it possible for people to accomplish that, you still have some accountability... I think that over the years we've been able to get a lot of people relicensed by getting the things done that need to get done. You don't get success all the time, but obviously when you do, you feel pretty good about it."
Gleeson admits that, like everyone, he had bad days and difficult cases, but he tried to keep his perspective positive.
"If you can make those defendants feel like you're paying attention and care about their cases, and if he or she feels that you do care and you're kind of on that person's side to try to re-obtain a license or something, it's amazing what some people will try to do to better themselves, and you can make an impression on somebody every once in awhile," Gleeson says. "Those are the things that are important to me."
Now that his time as judge has come to a close, Gleeson says that the City is "in good hands" with his successor, Fred Weinhouse, and that he looks forward to seeing how Wilsonville continues to grow and shape over time.
"Twenty-eight years is a long time and I'm going to miss it, but the handwriting was on the wall," Gleeson says. "And everything that happens in this world has three parts: a beginning, a middle and an end. And I'm not trying to begrudge what I did or didn't do, but I think that change is good."