The View From Here

That Was the Year That Was

by Eve Oldenkamp, OCDLA President

From the June-July 2015 issue of The Oregon Defense Attorney.

What a year. Not just for me, acting as President, but for events affecting the legal community and society in general.

Issues of police brutality made and stayed on the front page and further reminded us that racial bias in our society is still a major player. The Baltimore protests, which highlighted the tragic death of Freddie Gray, were an embodiment of a population’s frustration at being marginalized, maltreated and thwarted from obtaining meaningful redress through the criminal justice system. The Attorney General’s return of charges against the officers involved will keep the focus on this incident for the next couple of years. We are due for a deep societal conversation about racial bias and the fears that drive jurors, police officers and individuals to make emotionally driven rather than logical decisions.

Defense lawyers can benefit by reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, a beautifully written historical backdrop about the largest internal migration of a population in modern history, beginning after World War I and continuing into the 1970s. The migration of African Americans out of the South and into the North and West of the United States highlights, chronologically and generationally, the burden of slavery and Jim Crow laws. For profound insight into gangs, lawyers should see “Crips and Bloods: Made in America”—an excellent documentary film by Stacy Peralta. Again, this provides the historical foundation for the frustration and alienation of African-Americans and their lack of redress and acceptance within mainstream America.

Locally, the past year brought lots of change. Governor Kitzhaber stepped down. The John Wayne aura evaporated as he found himself facing a political and legal pickle that highlighted the commonality of all humanity… so often we do things for emotional rather than logical reasons. As criminal defense attorneys we see this play out too often for our clients. Stepping up to take his place, now-Governor Kate Brown became the second woman governor of Oregon and, as has been stated repeatedly by the media, the first openly bisexual Governor in the history of the United States.

Oregon also legalized specific quantities of recreational marijuana, as of July 1, 2015. Burdensome sentences and the label of felon shall no longer accompany the personal possession of what Oregon already labeled a medicine in 1998. Many of our members are to be credited with much of the work toward this legalization. Thank you.

In the legislative branch, Gail Meyer and our Legislative Committee have been pushing SB 822-A, the grand jury recording bill. OCDLA has introduced similar bills in the past but never have we received much political traction. As I write this, the bill has passed out of Senate Judiciary and is now in Ways and Means waiting for a funding decision. Representative Jennifer Williamson has helped lead the charge. (See the Legislative Update on page 14 for more.)

In the judicial branch—honestly, the AG’s in the OSC have been giving us a few conundrums. Let’s look briefly at State v. Williams, SC061769. Is it a shockingly sweeping decision, or perchance one that cuts out those charged with child sex offenses for a different set of evidentiary rules? Either way, decisions like this transport you to the era of our Founding Fathers, to conversations about the federal constitution, due process and the old adage that “the federal constitution is the floor not the ceiling” for the protection of individual rights and liberties. This leaves you with the melancholy realization that as the OSC works, Oregon’s raised ceiling for the protection of constitutional liberties is steadily being lowered. Looking for arguments to raise in response to Williams? Read the Appellate Update — “Challenging Other Acts Evidence under Williams” on page 20 of the June–July issue of The Oregon Defense Attorney, and don’t miss “Breaking Bad? Prior Bad Acts: State v. Williams” at the June 18–20 Annual Conference. OCDLA also plans a live-stream webinar on the topic in the near future.

Speaking of the AG, they recently subpoenaed OCDLA 1992–1997 Death Penalty CLE materials in a post-conviction matter. Our own Shaun McCrea has been leading the charge to quash the subpoena, volunteering hours of her time to fight the fight against disclosure. Unfortunately, on May 12 Judge Penn granted the DOJ’s motion to compel, though they must pay OCDLA $770 and cannot disseminate outside DOJ.

The Innocence Project officially opened a branch here in Oregon, the last of the 50 states to establish a chapter. S. Bobbin Singh, Executive Director, is joined by Steven Wax, as legal director, at the helm of the organization, with a robust Board membership including Lane Borg, Jeff Ellis, Ryan O’Connor, Nicole Ciccarello, Cynthia Hamilton, and William Teesdale to support the organization in its efforts to exonerate the truly innocent, educate law students, and reform criminal justice law to minimize the risk of false convictions. We are excited by the resources and dedication to justice this organization will provide to us all.

Within OCDLA, the Board has worked to provide greater member benefits. We established the weekly Criminal Appellate Review as one such benefit. OCDLA has also began hosting live-streamed webinars. This allows members to sit down for a couple of hours of CLE without needing to drive long distances or rent hotels. Further, the OCDLA is beginning the formation of a strike force. What is a strike force? Our strike force will assist members faced with judicial overreach. A group of OCDLA attorneys will volunteer as counsel when a judge suffers “black robe disease” or becomes the second prosecutor in the room and charges defense counsel with contempt or otherwise threatens criminal action when that defense counsel is merely operating within his or her ethical duties to provide zealous representation for the client.

OCDLA also created a new award—the Ross M. Shepard Award for Lifetime Service to OCDLA. The award honors those who, like its namesake, have given so much to the practice of public defense and the mission of OCDLA over the course of their career. The Board has chosen Chris Hansen as the first recipient. Mr. Hansen has worked for the Lane County Public Defender’s office for decades…. He “retired” this year, going to part-time. We look forward to celebrating with him at the Annual Conference.

I have enjoyed the Presidency, and I strongly urge any of you to run for a Board position. You are able to give back and to provide benefits to so many colleagues. Plus, working with John Potter is just, well, an award in and of itself. Seriously.
I know many of my “Views from Here” have waxed philosophical, rather darkly so, so I shall try to ride off into the sunset with a bit more levity! Our work is amazing. The colleagues we work with are indefatigable. We defend what is the essence of a civilized society and, while doing so, reach out and touch the hearts and souls of those who need it the most. The saddest and warmest comment I have ever heard from a client was, “Thank you, Ms. Oldenkamp, you are the first person who has ever believed in me.” Wow! I know many of you hear the same comment every day.

Young and old, we are a fun crew. We fight hard and play hard and our work matters. As Leo Tolstoy said, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” It is the essence of what you do as a criminal defense attorney.

I am humbled by the pack I run with, truly. I am honored to be among you.