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Oregon Bar Association

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The Oregon Bar Association:

Involvement and Interaction with the Judiciary

Randy Hancock

Final Paper

Justice 602: Week 9 – Module 9-3

Professor Roger Pao

February 21, 2016


Introduction

        The basis of the legal system in Oregon is comparable to other states.  Its roots are found in the common law process that this country was built on, and incorporate statutory laws that have developed over time.  Oregon’s judicial system mirrors most others and includes the regular review of traditional common law principles when faced with issues not clearly defined in statute.  The legal process in Oregon is composed of two paths; civil law and criminal law.  Within these two paths lie four types of courts: (1) state trial and appellate courts known as the Oregon Judicial Department, (2) limited jurisdiction justice of the peace, municipal, and county courts, (3) federal courts, and (4) tribal courts (Oregon Judicial Department, 2014).

                There are two main bodies outside the formal court system that oversee those operating in the judicial process; the Oregon Bar Association (OSB) which handles issues related to attorneys, and the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability (CJFD) which addresses concerns regarding judges.  The focus of this paper will be on the latter, as this area serves as the key component in the judiciary and offers the most significant impact in the legal process within the state.

Becoming a Judge in Oregon        

To become a judge in the state of Oregon, one is required to be a member of the state bar; effectively requiring that all judges be licensed to practice law.  Judges must be under the age of 75 and their tenure can end mid-term, at which point the Governor may appoint a replacement.  

        Judges in Oregon are generally selected through non-partisan elections and serve a six-year term, after which they must run for re-election.  This process is similar for judges of the state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit Courts; however, on occasion, the Governor can direct appoint judges when vacancies occur during term (Ballotpedia.com, n.d.).  Elections are typically held in November and those elected begin their term on the first Monday in January in accordance with the Oregon Constitution (Ballotpedia.com, n.d.).

Dealing with the Judiciary

Although judges are elected, there is input from the OSB regarding candidates for the ballot.  The Board of Governors Appellate Screening Committee conducts interviews and makes recommendations to the Governor.  In addition, OSB serves as a resource for local bar screening committees, which may also have a role in the judicial screening process and selection (A. Hollister, personal communication, January 6, 2016).  

Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability

The main body that deals directly with judges is the CFJD, which is the governing body that reviews complaints about state judges in Oregon, and also investigates allegations of misconduct which might violate Oregon’s Code of Judicial Conduct or the state Constitution.  In addition to complaints and allegations, this body also looks into disabilities that may significantly impact or interfere with a judge’s performance.  Upon its findings, the Commission can recommend a hearing which is generally held privately, but may be open to the public at the accused’s request.  

The Commission is comprised of volunteer members who serve a four year term.  The membership is made up of three lawyers who are appointed by the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors, three judges appointed by the Supreme Court, and three public members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate (Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, 2015).

In its essence, the CJFD is tasked with investigating alleged misconduct and/or violation of the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct and the Oregon Constitution, determining the validity of such allegations and concerns, and concluding their process under the Oregon Constitution, Article VII (amended), Section 8; which allows for the removal, suspension, or censure of judges as provided by state law (Oregon Blue Book, 2015).   In conducting evaluations and reviews of allegations and concerns as they relate to judges, the CJFD, operating within its scope and authority, effectively remains the enforcing body for determining the outcomes and recommending discipline as it pertains to judges in Oregon.  

Oregon State Bar

As an aside, the OSB is the governing body that also oversees the performance and conduct of licensed (and unlicensed) attorneys in the state.  The OSB was established in 1935 to license and discipline attorneys and to regulate the practice of law in Oregon.  It consists of over 14,000 members with over one-third being women, and over 2,000 residing in Oregon.  There is an 18 member, volunteer Board of Governors that oversees the functions of OSB and is comprised of 14 attorneys elected by the membership by geographic region.  The remaining four are members of the general public, who are appointed in accordance of their areas of expertise and interest (Oregon State Bar, 2015).  The mission of the OSB is to serve justice by promoting respect for the rule of law, by improving the quality of legal services, and by increasing access to justice (Oregon State Bar, 2015).

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

        Not all issues in the court system involve judges directly, and in many cases there needs to be a way to address concerns outside of the courtroom.  Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is just that; an alternative method for parties to resolve disputes, which can include mediation or arbitration.  One advantages of ADR is that it offers parties a generally less expensive means to arrive at a decision related to their issues.  The use of ADR tends to free up valuable court time, allowing the judicial system to focus on more criminal or large-scale civil matters.

        Although often used synonymously, mediation and arbitration are quite different.  In the arbitration process, the involved parties effectively grant power to an arbitrator(s) to hear testimony and review evidence in order to arrive at a decision which may be binding or non-binding.  Under mediation, a less formal method of ADR, the parties use a mediator to hear their concerns and the related facts, evidence, and testimony.  The mediator in this process has no true power to make a ruling and generally acts as a referee, only offering persuasion.  The mediation process may lead to a settlement agreement or the parties may elect to move to arbitration or trial (No Author, n.d.).  Oregon Revised Statute Chapter 36 lays out the rules and legal basis for both the mediation and arbitration process in the state (Oregon Legislature, 2015).

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