Enjoying his time on the bench
Mike McLane didn't exactly ease into his new role as circuit court judge.
He remembers showing up at the Crook County Courthouse on July 15, meeting with presiding judge Annette Hillman, who swore him in at 8:15 that morning. He was a new circuit court judge for Oregon's 22nd judicial district, representing Crook and Jefferson counties for all of 45 minutes before it was time to get to work.
"Starting at 9 a.m., I presided over a felony jury trial," he recalls, adding that the jury didn't come back with a verdict until after 6 p.m. at that day. "My first day was a jury trial and I had bench trials the next few days, motion hearings, so it was 'Put on the robe and jump right in.'"
McLane, who lives in Powell Butte, most recently represented House District 55 in the Oregon Legislature, serving from 2011 until this past June. Much of that time, 2012 to 2018, he was the Republican Leader.
However, his legal career stretches well beyond that timeframe. Having earned his law degree at Lewis and Clark Law School and finishing at the top of his class, he began his career as a law clerk to Oregon Supreme Court Justice W. Michael Gillette, who is now retired.
McLane has worked at several firms, including the Portland-based firms Miller Nash Graham and Dunn LLP, and Stoel Rives LLP, as well as one of Central Oregon's oldest firms, Bryant, Emerson & Fitch, LLP from 1994 to 2001. Leading up to his judge appointment, he was a partner at the firm Lynch Conger McLane LLP, in Bend, where he advised and litigated on behalf of business clients.
In addition, McLane is a lieutenant colonel? in the Oregon Air National Guard, where he serves as a staff judge advocate. He was previously an officer in the 41st Infantry Brigade of the Oregon Army National Guard.
Though the majority of his law career has been as an attorney, he didn't come to the 22nd judicial district without any experience as a judge.
"I was a circuit judge pro tem for Deschutes County between 2006 and 2008," he said, "so I have done small cases on civil commitments."
He enjoyed the experience immensely and it only reinforced a long-held desire to someday serve as a circuit court judge.McLane added that he has friends and colleagues who have gone to the bench and he has been able to hear about their experiences and benefit.
"I generally knew what to expect and there were no real surprises," he remarked.
So far, McLane has enjoyed his new job very much, and he especially likes the diversity of it. Dividing his time between Crook and Jefferson counties, he says every day on the bench is interesting with different legal issues and different cases. He points out that three judges serve the 22nd judicial district while other districts are served by more judges.
"There are no specialists among the judges. We hear all of the cases," he said. "I certainly acknowledge that the other two more experienced judges (Hillman and Daina Vitolins) probably have some bigger cases as I get my sea legs, so to speak, but I am hearing all of the different kinds of cases and I like that variety. It is a very interesting job."
The primary challenge that McLane has faced early on as a judge has been the complexity of some of the cases, which has "required me to dive into research to determine what the law requires the decision to be."
"The challenges aren't unexpected," he said, "but they certainly have required me to hit the books."
Fortunately for McLane, he can rely on many resources made available for judges, most of which are online. In addition, he is highly appreciative of the court staff and Hillman and Vitolins for helping him get started in his new role.
But the gratitude doesn't end there — far from it. At his investiture, which was held last Friday afternoon at Crook County Courthouse, McLane took time to thank dozens of people who had impacted his career path from his childhood to present day. He thanked attorneys, judges, legislators, family members and friends, singling out many of them individually to explain their role in his journey.
"It's a privilege to be a judge and I didn't come here on my own," he said. "I have had a lot of people who have helped me along the way and there so many of them in that courtroom during the investiture that instead of giving a traditional speech, I took the time to thank them for their investment in me and my career, as varied as it has been."
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