|Profiles in the Law|
By Cliff Collins
'We live on 40 acres. I walk to work in 10 minutes. My office is right, smack downtown, across from the courthouse.'
Such a setup may sound idyllic or fanciful to urban attorneys, and it is W. Eugene Hallman's summary of why he enjoys practicing in Pendleton. An attorney there since 1975, Hallman has earned a statewide reputation as an accomplished trial and appellate lawyer.
The self-described 'city kid' was born in
Seattle and raised mostly in Portland and San Francisco. His father
was a Presbyterian minister, and the family moved several times.
Twelve-year-old Gene and his clan even spent one year in Beirut.
Hallman 'gravitated' to the legal profession, entering college, and finishing at Portland State University, with his sights set on law school. He graduated magna cum laude at Willamette University, where he was editor-in-chief of the Willamette Law Journal. He then spent a year clerking for Oregon Supreme Court Justice Edward H. Howell. 'He was a great teacher and a great mentor,' Hallman remembers.
Hallman decided to begin practicing in 'the country. I was single at the time. I figured I could do it a year, and if I didn't like it, I could go back.' Instead, he never looked 'back,' and has thrived in what he considers the more relaxed, collegial environment of the east side.
At the same time, he kept on close terms with the wetter side of the state, a tack he learned from his first law job, working with Pendleton's Robert T. Mautz. 'Bob Mautz had a real feeling that if you're going to practice in Eastern Oregon, you have to keep ties to the bar, and be active in statewide organizations,' Hallman explains. Since 1979, Hallman has served on five different Oregon State Bar committees, sometimes simultaneously, and chaired the Ethics Committee. He also spent 11 years on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, chairing it for the last 10.
Hallman's practice focus is atypical, perhaps especially given his location. He devotes about two-thirds of his practice to trials and one-third to appeals. He may try only five cases a year but spend two years preparing for a single trial. Many of his appeal cases are referrals from Portland-area lawyers, and Hallman has won some large appeals, including a $13 million helmet verdict, a $42 million verdict against a pharmaceutical company, and an $18 million verdict against a Portland hospital in a brain injury case. Of the appeals cases, he says he backed up lawyers who won initially: 'They get the verdicts; I keep them with the appeal,' he says. 'Most of my work on trials is referrals from other lawyers. Most lawyers in Eastern Oregon are general practitioners.'
Earlier this year, his firm, Hallman & Dretke, settled a complex case against Union Pacific Railroad, representing 159 property owners in La Grande whose ground water was polluted by a huge diesel spill. He worked on the case for three years. In 1989, he won Stallworth v. Ryder Truck for $680,000, in which he represented a black truck driver from Chicago who was badly injured on Interstate 84. 'Everybody told me I was crazy' to take the case, he says, but 'I felt vindicated' after an Eastern Oregon jury ruled in the driver's favor. He explains that the verdict helped dispel the stereotype that a person of color would be hard pressed to get a fair trial in that part of the state.
In March, Hallman is slated to appear before the Oregon Supreme Court in a pro bono appeal. His aim is to establish that as a matter of policy, the state should appoint a lawyer for any attorney who is faced with discipline and cannot afford to pay for representation. Hallman explains that lawyers who are, for instance, drug addicts may have no money left, and a lawyer being disciplined may face charges that would be a crime in the court system.
Hallman worries about how young lawyers can gain trial experience these days. He believes experienced trial attorneys have 'an obligation to help' by sharing advice. He participates in the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association listserv, an e-mail exchange forum where members can ask questions of others, and he frequently takes calls from other attorneys. 'I think of people who helped me so along the way,' he says. 'It's just something that you should do to make the profession better.'
Hallman and his wife, Mary, who acts as the firm's office manager, own three horses and share a blended family of three children each. The couple often comes to Portland to enjoy restaurants, the symphony and theater. A three-and-a-half-hour drive or 50-minute flight affords them the same opportunities as their friends who live in the Portland area, he says; then 'we get to come back to a place where we like to live.'
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area free-lance writer and frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2002 Cliff Collins