Endorsement: Ernie Warren for Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge
Contested judicial races in Oregon are about as rare as a Blazers' championship run and attract almost as much excitement.
Okay. The last part's not true. But a campaign for a judgeship always piques the interest of the press and legal observers. That's because most judges in Oregon retire mid-term to allow the governor to appoint their successors. Then, they inevitably run unopposed in subsequent elections until retiring mid-term, re-starting the rinse-and-repeat cycle.
So, when Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Gregory F. Silver announced he'd retire when his term is up in January, it sparked a dash to the county elections office.
A brainy quintet of would-be benchwarmers is vying to take Silver's post, which he's held since Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed him to the bench in 2013.
In addition to being uncommon, judicial races also are somewhat uncomfortable.
Most candidates seeking elective office are eager to explain how they would have voted on past matters and how they would vote on issues likely to land on their desks if elected.
Judges, however, are expected to base their decisions without considering how the public (including voters) feels about them.
In an often-quoted 2002 opinion, former U.S. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor discussed the perils of injecting political calculus into judicial deliberations in Minnesota. "If the State has a problem with judicial impartiality," she wrote, "it is largely one the State brought upon itself by continuing the practice of popularly electing judges."
To avoid politicizing the office, most judicial candidates in Oregon are circumspect in sharing their legal views, forcing voters to make decisions based on experience and temperament.
All five candidates in this race have the calm, measured demeanor you want on the bench. And all bring formidable résumés and compelling life stories. So, in a contest in which voters must focus on experience, two of the lawyers stand out.
Adrian Brown told us she first saw the positive role that lawyers and judges can play when her single mom was able to go to court and get child support from her father.
Her interest in public policy and the law was heightened at Indiana University, where she enrolled in the Air Force ROTC to help pay for her studies An acceptance letter from Lewis & Clark Law School brought her to Oregon, where she clerked for both a defense firm and federal prosecutors, while also participating in school's legal aid clinic.
After graduating in 2000, she returned to the Air Force as a judge advocate general, representing air force members facing administrative discipline and criminal charges, including violent sex crimes. The job did not always win her the admiration of her fellow officers.
She's spent the last 12 years working as an assistant U.S. attorney and heads the office's civil rights division. She's worked for appointees of both political parties and handled the high-profile settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and the city of Portland over the police bureau's pattern of excessive force against people with mental illnesses. Her work on police reform has won her praise (and support) from members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance and prominent civil rights advocates. Her lengthy list of endorsements also includes current and former elected officials, from Sen. Avel Gordly to Gov. Barbara Roberts, to a bevy of lawyers and judges.
Ernie Warren is equally impressive.
Like Brown, he grew up poor and learned the value of hard work and ambition, picking beans on Sauvie Island, starting at age 9. "I vowed to get out the fields," he said. "It took me six years, but I did it."
The Jefferson High School grad got a law degree from the University of Arizona and returned to Portland to found Warren & Sugarman, the city's first African American-owned law firm. In the three decades since then, he's tried dozens (more than 100 by his count) of civil and criminal cases, giving him courtroom experience that would serve him well on the bench. He's also been active in various community groups, working with both the state and county bar associations and serving as a mentor for the Portland Gang Violence Task Force, meeting with troubled young men over lunch. "You might consider them dangerous," he said. "I consider them desperate."
We are confident that either Brown or Warren would make an excellent judge. But for a criminal judicial system still struggling with racial disparities in, Warren's professional and personal experience give him a slight edge.
The other three candidates made spirited arguments for their election, but none are as well-suited for the bench as Brown or Warren.
Rima Ghandour is a civil law attorney whose firm specializes in business law, with a focus on personal injury and product liability. Growing up in Lebanon and Iraq, she saw the effects of "legal chaos." As a Muslim immigrant living in Portland, she says she's felt the sting of discrimination and ignorance. She's like to courts to be more sensitive the needs of marginalized communities and has begun recording informational videos in Arabic. We don't think she's quite ready for a judgeship but applaud her initiative and encourage her to remain active in the legal community.
Sonia Montalbano enrolled in Lewis & Clark law school with plans to protect the environment. But after getting involved in some public service law projects she decided to protect people, and now specializes in employment law. She said that, as a judge, she'd work to create an environment where people feel like they'll get a fair hearing, noting that "nobody in a courthouse is happy unless they are getting married or adopting a baby."
John Schlosser also is motivated by a commitment to help people who currently view the legal system with skepticism and fear. The criminal defense attorney has worked with immigrant defendants and, as a judge, would work to make courtrooms more accessible and less intimidating.
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