Former Oregon Supreme Court justice dies at 83
Richard William Riggs, a Charbonneau resident and former Oregon Supreme Court justice who held the position for eight years between 1998 and 2006, has died at the age of 83.
Known as "Bill," the accomplished legal professional beloved by family, friends and colleagues battled bladder cancer and leukemia in recent years and was experiencing heart complications at the time of his death April 23, according to his family.
Born Nov. 21, 1938 in Hinsdale, Illinois, Riggs' family in 1950 relocated to an 80-acre farm in Hillsboro when he was 11. Bobbie Fisher, Riggs' sister, said he developed a strong work ethic from a young age as the siblings helped tend to the animals and grow food.
Riggs graduated from Hillsboro High School and earned an undergraduate degree in history from Portland State University in 1961. Fisher said Riggs worked part time at a bakery in high school to afford his own car and clothes, and paid his way through college working at Meier & Frank, a now-defunct department store chain.
After graduating from Portland State in 1961, Riggs joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Trinidad and Tobago for two years as a junior supply corps officer before joining the Navy Reserve. He served there for over two decades until 1992, when he retired as a captain.
While on active duty, Riggs and his first wife Sue welcomed two children, who Riggs would later raise on his own after he and Sue separated.
While in the Reserve, Riggs began to pursue a career in law and graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1968. As a private practice attorney, he served as president of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association from 1973-74.
In 1978, Riggs became a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge, serving 10 years until 1988 when he was appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. While on the appeals court in 1993, he co-founded the Oregon Academy of Family Law Practitioners. During this period, Riggs met and married his second wife, Jeri, and became stepfather to her two children.
Riggs' tenure on the state's highest court began in 1998, when then-Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed him to succeed Susan Graber as the 94th associate justice on the Oregon Supreme Court. Riggs was reappointed to the court in 2004, the same year he married longtime friend and criminal justice attorney Diane Rader Riggs.
According to Riggs' family, he authored a majority opinion of the Oregon Supreme Court in State v. Guzek, appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court that capital defendants in the sentencing phase of their trial are constitutionally permitted to introduce new evidence that may prove their innocence.
Riggs retired from the state Supreme Court in 2006, living with Diane in Wilsonville's Charbonneau district and enjoying a semi-retired life while serving as a pro-tem judge and specialist in legal arbitration and mediation.
Diane said that while Riggs "was always accomplishing something," he never bragged, treating all with respect and remaining someone whose loved ones and colleagues knew they could rely upon for support through challenges in and out of the courtroom.
"He really cared for people, and he was always being sought out for advice and for counsel in personal issues as well as during his work," she said.
He was also always known for being "creative about his clothing," said Diane, explaining that he often liked to customize his judge's robes with a splash of vibrancy in the form of many bow ties he collected over the years.
Outside of work, Diane said Riggs was a Renaissance man with a strong passion for the arts. He played saxophone and bass in a band while in high school, developing a lifelong love for opera and jazz music while also honing his own talents as a singer.
Fisher said they would frequently attend ballroom dances together with their dates, usually spending the evenings "dancing the night away" with each other while their dates watched on the sidelines.
Diane said: "He was the best dancer I had ever danced with."
Riggs additionally excelled as a chef, collecting hundreds of recipes and loving to prepare meals for friends and family — including his signature braised lamb dishes, caesar salads and more, said Diane.
"When he found himself on his own as a single dad, he took cooking lessons because he knew he was going to have to be not only a lawyer, but raise his kids," Fisher said.
Riggs is survived by Diane, Fisher, his two children Laura and Jeff, and his two stepchildren Tamariah and Cheri. A celebration of life will be held at the Charbonneau Country Club in June, Diane said.
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