Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JUNE 2003

Profiles in the Law
Vocation Vacation
By Constance Emerson Crooker

One attribute best describes Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Edward Jones: intellectual curiosity. During a recent trip to Mexico, Jones met with his judicial counterparts there, and he probed the similarities and differences in our legal systems. He came away with some jolting insights about the legal principles that we assume are basic to due process. Jones says, 'In a few days you can’t learn much about somebody else’s legal system, but you can learn a lot about your own.'

Jones could have spent his Mexican vacation lounging beachside with a Phil Margolin novel, but chose instead to ask the Mexican Consulate in Portland to arrange for introductions to judges and lawyers in Morelia, Michoacan. As a result, Jones spent three whirlwind days there in the company of top members of Morelia’s legal community.

Judicial leaders there cordially prepared this busy schedule for Jones. Day one: meet in the morning with civil judges and with the 'presidente' of the Supreme Court. Meet in the afternoon at the penitentiary with criminal judges. Day two: attend a much-publicized ceremony in the town of Ario de Rosales to celebrate the 188th anniversary of the founding there of Mexico’s first Supreme Court. Attend speeches, a parade and a banquet. Sit at the table of the governor, the mayor, the state’s head prosecutor (a woman who is bravely tackling corruption) and other dignitaries. Day three, meet with the chief public defender for the state of Michoacan.

Jones came away with an impression of a legal system far different from our own, but one steeped in important traditions. The judges and lawyers there were enormously curious about what they called our 'oral trials.' He learned that in Mexico, trials, both civil and criminal, look more like our appellate cases. No witnesses appear before the judges. Everything is presented in writing. The witnesses give narrative statements without the participation of lawyers. The statements are then written out by court reporters. The attorneys’ arguments are submitted to the judge in written form. The attorneys base their arguments entirely on the written record. There are no courtrooms, no cross-examination, no confrontation. The judges study the material and make written rulings. Then, according to Jones, 'Everybody appeals everything.'

Jones began to ask himself questions such as, 'What do we gain, really, by seeing the witnesses? (What kind of clothes they can afford?) Maybe there’s good reason not to see them. It would make the witnesses more equal, wouldn’t it?' Jones also questioned our cherished notions about cross-examination as a means of ferreting out truth. He noted the scarcity of times that a dynamite cross-examination actually changes anyone’s opinion of a witness, and he concluded that our two systems make different assumptions about how you judge truthfulness. In Mexico, each witness’ statement is accompanied by data about the person’s past, and the witnesses 'are essentially scored,' says Jones. But this notion is not all that foreign to us. The use of prior convictions function much the same way in our criminal cases, he points out.

Jones has always had a probing mind. He attended Reed College during the freewheeling 1960s when he sported bell-bottoms and long hair, but his insightful thinking never wavered. While at Reed, Jones took a pre-law class from Reed president Victor Rosenblum (Judge Ellen Rosenblum’s father) and became intrigued with the law. He went on to graduate from Northwestern School of Law at Lewis &Clark, and in 1975, he plunged straight into the private practice of criminal defense. He partnered with a colorful group of young and restless lawyers in a crowded Oregon City office, where one second-hand suit jacket hung in the closet for any of the lawyers to throw on before a court appearance.

In the mid-1970s the spotlight caught Jones when he joined with a topnotch team of lawyers in their successful defense of members of the American Indian Movement who had been charged in federal court with transporting explosives in Marlon Brando’s borrowed motor home. Then, in 1984, Jones was hired as director of Multnomah Defenders Inc. in Portland. He guided MDI through its fledgling stages, its growth pains and into the respected organization of public defenders that it is today. He has also served on the OSB Board of Governors and on the board of the Professional Liability Fund. In 1999, Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed Jones to the bench of Multnomah County’s Circuit Court where he now serves.

In 1982 Jones married Jenny Cooke who is also a Reed graduate. Cooke is an attorney who practices death penalty defense in Oregon City. Jones describes Cooke as 'a great conversationalist at all hours.' They have two children; Steven, age 20, who is a history major at U.S.C., and Maggie, age 16 who has finished high school and is searching for a job and a college.

Connie Crooker of Portland is both an attorney and free-lance writer.

© 2003 Constance Emerson Crooker

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