Privilege is Necessary

Regarding SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) legislation, HB 2460, I was told that the Oregon State Bar appeared at the legislative committee hearing and opposed a bill that would have granted privilege to persons testifying in land-use matters pending before the municipal bodies. The information I received indicated that representatives of the bar reported that there was no need for this legislation.

Perhaps my experience is unique, but I have seldom found my life to be so. In the last six years, I am aware of at least six instances in Florence, Ore., where citizens opposing development projects were threatened with lawsuits. On at least two occasions I offered pro bono defense, hoping this would enable the citizens to continue participating in the public process. I must confess that those offers were not entirely altruistic. Each threat of litigation was so patently ridiculous and obviously meant to intimidate, that I was confident I could obtain dismissal.

Further, privilege such as this exists in numerous parts of our legal system. For example, reports of child abuse to law enforcement agencies by members of the Oregon State Bar are privileged. People do sometimes 'lie' and abuse these privileges. If that is a significant concern within the context of the proposed legislation, perjury can be added as a sanction. Perjury charges must be approved by a prosecutor, but the wealthy and powerful cannot institute perjury charges to intimidate.

I certainly hope my information about the bar is not correct.

D. Ronald Gerber

Bob Oleson, OSB public affairs director, responds: The bar's Procedure and Practice Committee reviewed and studied HB 2460 at the request of lawyer-legislators to improve the workability of the bill. The bar committee took no position on the public policy on which the bill was based. The committee testified that it unanimously had serious concerns over whether the bill would attain the result intended as originally drafted because it was based on a California statute that created a 'special motion to strike,' which contemplated use of evidence. The bill also had several provisions that presented serious constitutional issues. The committee's involvement typefies how bar sections and committees become involved in law improvement activities during the legislative session. Hopefully, this input results in more legally sound and workable statutes that achieve the goals of the proponents and give the trial and appellate courts more clear language to apply in important cases.

Compassion Appreciated

I would like to commend the performance of a member of the Oregon State Bar, Robert Altman. Mr. Altman went considerably above and beyond to assist a member of my family in a time of extreme financial and emotional distress.

Without getting into specifics, the matter involved Bob's retention about three years ago to handle a bankruptcy. While the financial situation was distressing enough by itself, conditions were compounded when the client was subsequently diagnosed with terminal cancer and died five months later, leaving his spouse with no insurance benefits and very little in assets.

Mr. Altman continued to serve his client's spouse with full knowledge that he may not see a penny for his work. An emphasis should be placed on 'serve' - Bob not only provided needed legal assistance, but was readily accessible and eager to help. He truly approached this matter with a level of compassion rarely seen these days in any field. Mr. Altman had no prior acquaintance with his client and acted solely on a desire to assist a fellow human being in need.

Our family offers many thanks to Bob for his effort and hopes that acknowledgement of his actions encourages those within and without the OSB to respond accordingly when encountering a similar situation.

Paul J. Grad

Two Sides to Every Story

The May 2001 bar Bulletin proved again that every fact has at least two sides. Henry Kane's letter to the editor about Bush v. Gore states: 'This writer drafted and lobbied Oregon's first election recount law through the 1955 legislature and does not know of any recount that changed the outcome of an election.' Only 35 pages later, Jerry Banks tells a great war story of how a 1962 recount did change the outcome of an election for sheriff in Columbia County, and how good lawyering nevertheless allowed the will of the electors to prevail. It is a good story, which would otherwise have been lost in the archives of the trial courts.

Jerry Banks' article is also a reminder that media circuses surrounding contested election are nothing new, even if a Columbia County media circus in the simpler times of 1962 meant a play by play radio broadcast hosted by Tom McCall. Why? Voters are interested in the integrity of the electoral process, because it is essential to democracy that the outcome of elections can be trusted, regardless of who is elected.

Frederic E. Cann

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