Former Disability Rights Oregon director receives highest legal honor
Bob Joondeph spent the bulk of his legal career fighting for a level playing field. For 30 years, he worked as an attorney for Disability Rights Oregon. He's been instrumental in protecting the civil rights of Oregonians with disabilities and pushing to make public spaces more accessible to everyone.
"I went to work there in 1986," Joondeph recalls. "I started out as a managing attorney, and then I became the director in 1991."
Joondeph, 70, who lives in Portland's Goose Hollow neighborhood, said his ambition to try to reshape a broken system led to his career with Disability Rights Oregon.
"I went to work there primarily because I was interested in trying to reform Oregon's mental health system," he said. Joondeph succeeded.
Over the course of his tenure at Disability Rights Oregon, Joondeph ushered in major changes, including legal work that led to the state's dysfunctional and abusive psychiatric hospitals being closed and separate litigation that shuttered the former Fairview Training Center. State investigations and a class action lawsuit filed by DRO found thousands of people with developmental disabilities were institutionalized and often sterilized, neglected or abused. The facility was closed in 2000.
The closure of the Fairview Training Center also paved the way for a key piece of legislation- Kitzhaber vs. Staley. The lawsuit, which DRO was involved with, ensured that the 7,000 Oregonians displaced by the closure of Fairview had access to support services provided by the state. Today, those services remain intact. "Every child with an intellectual or developmental disability in Oregon is eligible to receive in-home supports because of the 'brokerage' service system that the Staley case helped to create," DRO explained.
The impacts of Joondeph's storied legal career and advocacy live on today.
Landmark legislation that led to a gradual phase-out of Oregon's system of segregating and paying workers with developmental disabilities less than minimum wage in exchange for vocational training was also passed under Joondeph's watch at DRO.
"Under Bob's leadership, DRO's legal advocacy reshaped disability rights law in Oregon and those changes reverberated across the country," said Jan Campbell, president of Disability Rights Oregon's board of directors. "And these are issues that really matter to people's everyday lives. If you look at the lives of people experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities in Oregon today compared to what their lives looked like before the Fairview Training Center was closed, it's radically different. His pioneering advocacy will have an enduring impact on the lives of thousands of Oregonians with disabilities across the state."
In more recent years, Joondeph and DRO joined a case in Columbia County, where a sheriff's office-sanctioned canine attack on a jail inmate with mental health issues during a forced cell extraction led to a new state law forbidding the practice.
The Multnomah Bar Association recently awarded Joondeph the Professionalism Award, the highest accolade given to those in the legal profession.
"The MBA Professionalism Award honors an attorney who goes beyond the observance of the legal profession's ethical standards and serves the best interests of clients and the public in general. During his distinguished career, Bob Joondeph's advocacy has and continues to make an impact in the lives of his clients and others, has advanced disability law rights in Oregon, and has helped to create a more inclusive community," Guy Walden, executive director of the bar association, stated. "His work at Disability Rights Oregon also elevated the standards of professionalism of those who worked with him."
Joondeph was humbled at the news.
"I was very pleased to be recognized as being deserving of the award. The Multnomah Bar Association is a wonderful association," he said. "The fact that it gives awards for professionalism and work on diversity really says a lot about the organization. That's really a big pat on the back."
Joondeph may have retired, but he's not done working. He currently serves as interim executive director at Disability Rights Connecticut, while the organization is between directors. He's also a member of the Social Security Advisory Board, a position he was appointed to by Sen. Ron Wyden.
"One of the things that some folks who don't do this kind of work don't see is it's really challenging legally," he said, reflecting on more than three decades of civil rights advocacy as he walked his Southwest Portland neighborhood. "It takes a lot of effort and energy and creativity to effect change through the legal system. I've been very fortunate to be able to do the kind of work I love. It's very interesting, it's very challenging in many ways and [you're] doing your work not only for what you love, but what you believe in, and that is a luxury."
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