by Lane Borg, OCDLA President
From the Jan-Feb-Mar 2014issue of The Oregon Defense Attorney.
It is winter, I have been to a couple of memorial services I did not expect, and so I will reflect a little on change and time as is appropriate for this season.
In November, many of us gathered in Eugene to remember Ross Shepherd, who left us so unexpectedly, and I was struck by what a great legal community we have. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and friends came together to remember one of Oregon’s innovators of public defense.
Yesterday (as I write this), I went to the memorial of Marc Blackman, one of the old guard of Oregon’s criminal defense attorneys. Marc did not come from Metropolitan Public Defender, rather he came from Sid Lezak’s U.S. Attorney’s office. Marc was the consummate gentleman and exceptional professional. As I sat in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel at Lewis & Clark College I noticed again how many of the old guard were in attendance, and again judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys (even civil lawyers) gathered to remember Marc. This struck me as notable because I spend so much of my day with the new wave—young lawyers (some the children of the old guard) filling the same positions and offices once occupied by the seasoned veterans.
I have wondered about this intersection of the old and new. I often find myself talking to the new lawyers at MPD about the folks that once worked in these rooms—now in many cases the judges that vex their days with confounding justifications to back the state. On one level I take solace in thinking it was ever thus; I remember in the 1990s reading an obit about a particularly old, cussed judge who rarely understood my perspective on the police. I was surprised to see that he had been a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU in the 1960s. But a few remain steadfast in the cause, they do not bend to time and wisdom that tempers so many of us, or at least we use that to justify softening the passions of our youth. I was glad to see that both Ross and Marc, in their two communities but in service to the same cause of criminal justice, held fast to the end. I am also happy that in the end they were honored by the entire criminal justice community.
So, it is a season of reflection but this reflection should be prospective as well. What lessons can I take from this?
It would be folly to ignore that we in the OCDLA community are engaged in an important debate about equity and compensation. This debate has been heated and in some cases has created hard feelings that threaten to divide us. I have advocated positions regarding public defense that I will admit could have been more politic. I do not apologize or retract many of the concepts, but will agree that the manner and impact of my rhetoric has had unintended consequences. I do believe in equal pay for equal work, but I also believe that means different things between types of practices. Non-profit public defenders have a different model than for-profit firms; if nothing else, the for-profit firms have to generate additional money to cover taxes not applied to non-profits. But there are other differences: a public defense provider taking a fraction of one or two caseloads will not get the advantage of a massive number of cases leveling out the ups and downs of individual cases. So we have to recognize these differences as we aim for the goal of having individual providers, no matter what their business model, having economic equality.
The OCDLA is committed to this goal of equal pay for equal work. We have begun the process of gathering the information necessary to make our case to the OPDS and ultimately to the legislature. Everyone needs to be heard and participate in this process. We must move forward, united. We will have difficult conversations; that’s okay, but let’s commit to the unity of purpose and civility of discourse that our recently lost brethren demonstrated.
P.S. On February 1, 2014, the OCDLA Board heard a report from the Pay Parity Committee, chaired by Portland member Lynne Dickison. This group has pulled together a wide array of talent and interest within our organization. The Board then adopted a resolution, shown at right. This is an important step and will help guide future OCDLA policy decisions. Thanks to Lynne and all the member of the committee for their work and continued commitment to this process.
OCDLA Board President Lane Borg is director of the Metropolitan Public Defender in Portland. He serves on the Education and Legislative committees.
February 1, 2014
OCDLA will advocate for OPDS to include one policy option package (POP) for the 2015–2017 biennium that ensures Oregon complies with federal mandates for the provision of public defense.
OCDLA supports fairness and balance in compensation for public defense work regardless of whether non-profit public defense office, consortium, private or hourly provider.
OCDLA will advocate for the one POP to address the unmet needs identified by all public defense providers, with specific emphasis on parity among public defense providers, i.e., equal pay for equal work.