|Oregon State Bar Bulletin OCTOBER 2011|
When Oregon judges approach retirement age, their reactions vary across the spectrum: Some are glad to step down early, while others wish they could keep going indefinitely.
For example, after spending 25 years on the bench, former Lane County Circuit Court Judge Kip W. Leonard says, “I don’t find myself longing to put on the black robe anymore.”
By contrast, retired Supreme Court Justice Wallace P. Carson Jr., who spent nearly 25 years on the Supreme Court, admits, “I love being a trial judge.” Assuming his re-election, he says, “I would still be working at the court” if not for the state constitutional requirement that judges cannot serve past age 75.
Many retired judges follow the fairly conventional path of mediating or arbitrating, volunteering in the community and working occasionally as judges after they no longer have to. Others find fulfillment pursuing activities that long have interested them but which they didn’t have as much time to do while working.
The Oregon State Bar Bulletin visited with seven former judges to get a flavor of what they are up to.
Going Back to the Future
Two judges who returned to their legal roots are Jan Wyers in Portland and Milo Pope in Baker City.
A year and a half ago, Wyers — a former social worker, lawyer, legislator and judge — hung up a shingle again. “I’ve gone back to where I started in 1975,” he says, in sole practice with an associate.
Wyers had practiced law by himself or with only one other attorney for 23 years, with overlapping service in the Oregon State Senate for 12 years, including as majority leader. He didn’t become a judge until he turned 60, serving on the Multnomah County Circuit Court for seven and a half years. He then worked as a Plan B senior judge from July 2006 until he completed his service this June.
In early 2010, he did what he says few retired judges do by going back into practice, opening an office in downtown Portland. His associate, Sonda L. Fields, had been Wyers’ law clerk in 1999, and he had mentored her before and during her time in law school. Wyers was drawn back to practice specifically to help Fields, a black female attorney with a decade of trial experience, launch a private, fee-driven practice. Mentoring her is a major legacy goal of his, Wyers says.
“I enjoy helping people. I also believe providing social support to others is a vital piece in the puzzle of how to remain healthy and vital into my 80s.”
Wyers also was inspired by the book Younger Next Year, which “supports my determination to stay healthy and involved,” as do the four or five days a week he spends doing vigorous aerobic exercise. In their practice, Wyers and Fields frequently go to court and are doing estate planning, plaintiffs’ personal injury, criminal defense and family law, and representing family businesses.
“We really enjoy sticking up for people who can barely afford a lawyer,” Wyers says.
After Baker County Circuit Court Judge Milo Pope retired in 2001, “I went home,” he recounts. Like nearly all Oregon judges, he had elected a Plan B retirement, in which the state agrees to enhance judges’ pension in exchange for their agreeing to serve 175 days over a five-year period in any court in the state where needed. When he had concluded that service, “After a few days, my wife said: ‘Don’t you have some place to be?’ So, here I am.” Pope went back into private practice, joining attorney Damien R. Yervasi in Baker City.
“It’s kind of hard to stop being involved,” Pope says. “I still have a great admiration for the legal profession and for lawyers.” In addition, “I felt young then, and I still feel young.”
Yet Pope is cautious about not using his influence as a retired judge inappropriately. “I’m constantly aware of that. There are still people who call me ‘Judge.’ I don’t appear often in court. I’ve not tried a case yet.”
“I try to be aware of my limitations,” he says. “I have watched some of my heroes age less than gracefully as lawyers, and I’m trying to avoid [doing] that.” He doesn’t take criminal defense or workers’ compensation cases, nor does he accept appellate cases, although he used to.
“I like to engage in problem-solving for people that takes advantage of my training and experience, but it doesn’t necessarily involve the law sometimes,” says Pope. “I really enjoy trying to help people. I do a lot of pro bono stuff. I try not to be a menace.”
He says he enjoyed being a judge, for the most part. “I like to watch people change,” he says, although by the same token, “it was discouraging to see some people waste their life.”
Before going on the bench, Pope worked as “an ordinary country lawyer,” first in Idaho, then in Milton-Freewater and later in Grant County. “That’s kind of what I do here.”
Other retired judges have chosen to spend more time with artistic and athletic pursuits.
A prime example is Gregory Foote, who retired at the end of 2009 from the Lane County Circuit Court after 32 years on the bench. He was appointed to the Lane County District Court in 1977 and to the circuit court in 1981. He then was elected a total of six times following those appointments.
His two primary involvements outside the courtroom have been in theater and high school athletics. Foote has been acting in and writing plays since the early 1990s, and has appeared in two Hollywood movies that were filmed in Eugene. He holds a Screen Actors Guild membership and has an agent in Portland.
“I’ve always liked to go to theater,” he explains. “I decided I’d like to try it. I took some classes, and have been in quite a few plays.” Foote also has had four plays produced that he wrote. He wrote one six months after he retired and is working on two others.
For 35 years the Beaverton High School graduate has been an active volunteer at what he calls “my adopted school,” South Eugene High School. He started as a volunteer coach, then for years has worked as a public address announcer, such as for boys basketball and soccer state tournaments. He says being retired was “kind of a blessing” after two students tragically drowned at the coast this year, and he became involved in events related to that, including announcing at a pre-game tribute for the students attended by 3,000 people.
Foote also stays physically active, working out every day either at a gym or by bicycling. “I can’t believe I actually had time to work, because it seems like I’m busy all the time.”
Eric W. Valentine of La Grande concurs. Stepping down in 2003 after two decades as a district and circuit court judge for Union and Wallowa counties, he has gone on medical missions overseas and stepped up his involvement with scenic photography and backpacking.
A native of Southern California, Valentine and his wife, Meg, served in the Peace Corps, then moved to La Grande in 1970, thinking it was “going to be a place to pass through,” he says. Instead, they fell in love with the outdoor beauty and warmth of the people, and stayed and raised two sons: one a lawyer and the other a physician. Eric and Meg Valentine, who is a retired teacher and principal, “co-mediate” cases and train others to mediate, leading a 32-hour basic course.
He and several other individuals founded the nonprofit Eastern Oregon Mediation Center. “It really started as a need to help small-claims litigants resolve disputes for themselves,” he explains. “It gives litigants personal control over the settlement,” as well as translating into fewer cases the court has to take.
Valentine considered judging “intellectually stimulating, like a jigsaw puzzle. You apply the law to the facts you’ve found. I’m a gregarious sort, so I enjoyed working with the lawyers.” He also continues to receive rewards, such as when “people come up to me in the grocery store and say, ‘Thank you for helping me get in recovery.’ ”
His interest in photography began when he was in high school, when he went as an exchange student to West Berlin, Germany. In 1992, he got more serious after he joined the Wallowa Valley Photography Club. He began using a tripod and became a devotee of Canon cameras and, once it became available, digital photography. Valentine established a website (www.praisephotography.com) and blog to showcase his photos, and his site receives over 2,000 visits a month from people in 100 different countries.
Valentine has done logistics work on several medical missions to Ecuador and China with Global Health Outreach. He led Cub and Boy Scout troops for 20 years, and frequently takes 50- to 200-mile hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail. “At 68, I’m not quite where I was at 60, but it’s good to be out there with a pack on my back.”
Kip Leonard, a district and circuit court judge beginning in 1986, who served as a presiding judge for each court, retired from the Lane County Circuit Court in May 2010. He had spent the last decade sitting for the county’s juvenile court.
“I had handled all the different judicial responsibilities over the course of my career,” he says. When his turn came to take the juvenile court, “it turned out I really enjoyed it. I felt productive, I felt useful, and I enjoyed working with kids and families. Juvenile court really allows the judge to participate more in cases than regular court. It’s a little social work, a little family work, a little of everything.”
But one day in February 2010, something happened that “really pushed me to retire,” he recalls. The courthouse doors were opened, and he could see it was a beautiful, sunny day. He wrote a note to himself: “I don’t want to have to stay inside on a nice day anymore.”
“I really enjoy doing things outside,” Leonard says. He found it a relief “to be able to call my days my own after 35 years of work,” whether it be outdoor pursuits, reading, gardening — “the things that an 8-to-5 job doesn’t allow you to do.” He works out, cycles, hikes, visits with friends, serves on several boards of nonprofit organizations, and continues to stay involved in juvenile issues, such as participating on a work group that addresses abuse and neglect cases. Leonard also does some mediation and arbitration work to keep his hand in.
“I don’t miss working. I don’t miss the authority and the power” of being a judge,” he says. “I never defined myself by my job. One of the things that bothered me: I didn’t like being called ‘Judge’ outside the courtroom. I don’t like the separation it creates from the people I meet.”
Some judges would like to continue what they were doing in their career, even after they no longer can because of constraints imposed by Oregon law.
For retired Supreme Court Justice Wallace Carson, being a Plan B judge is the next best thing, even though he wanted to stay on the Supreme Court even after he had passed 75.
“I was very appreciative” of the opportunity to stay active and vital, he says. He finds the Oregon Constitution’s age-limit stipulation “an anomaly” at a time when our society tries to be sensitive not to discriminate against people for other immutable personal characteristics.
Nonetheless, he and his wife wanted to travel around the state after he stepped down from the Supreme Court at the end of 2006, and they have gotten to do so as a result of his being a Plan B judge, after serving over four years as a circuit court judge in Marion County and a quarter of a century on the Supreme Court. The 48 Plan B judges in Oregon are subject to being sent anywhere in the state at any time to fulfill their yearly requirements, according to Kim Blanding, pro tem manager of the Oregon Judicial Department. And Carson, besides filling in at the Marion County courthouse “whence I came,” has presided in Lane County and Benton County. “I even got to try a court case.”
He also has been working at the Oregon Court of Appeals, noting that the Supreme Court does not use pro tem judges. “We found it worked better” to function with a smaller court when a member is absent than to bring in fill-ins, he says.
He calls being a Plan B judge “good activity.” In Marion County, “I sat in the same courtroom I left 25 years before,” Carson says. “Some of the (same) staff were still there.”
Kristena A. LaMar, who retired in late 2009, has continued, one day a week, doing what she did as a judge in Multnomah County Circuit Court. She hears pro se family law cases in her old quarters atop the Portland Building every Wednesday, usually four to six each week.
“I see families — of many definitions — who cannot afford legal advice and must rely on family court facilitators, if they are available, or me,” she says, as they or she tries “to guide them through a myriad of forms, statutes and substantive law. I sometimes feel that I’m conducting mini-family law courses in my hearings.”
LaMar, who took Plan B retirement and moved with her husband to Damascus in Clackamas County, says she would like to do pro bono work as a lawyer in addition to her Wednesday courts. But she says the type of court work she does nearly always rules out that option, because of potential conflicts of interest: She might help clients through a nonprofit or in her private practice who then would appear before her court. “It’s my judicial service that gets in the way of my (doing) pro bono.”
Still, she thrives on continuing to do family law hearings, something many judges don’t like to take on, she says. In one and a half years, she has presided over 80 to 90 pro se family law disputes.
“It’s something that appeals to me,” LaMar says. “I do enjoy it. I run into people who often are having a lot of problems integrating with society. They need to be heard. Many need to be educated about the legal system and what the law allows, especially family law.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2011 Cliff Collins