Oregon State Bar Bulletin — DECEMBER 2004

Oregon Legal Heritage
Living History: Charles S. Crookham (1923-2004)
By Berkeley Crookham

It is not enough to call the late Judge Charles S. Crookham, who died on Oct. 7, 2004, a lawyer or jurist. He was both of these, but he was also an historian, a politician, a citizen soldier, an administrator and to those attorneys who practiced before him, both a leader and a mentor. At home, he was a family man, a husband and father — and a master chef. Whoever he was, his trademark bow ties were not far behind.

Judge Crookham came to national attention in legal circles when he successfully brought the average age of civil cases in Multnomah County down to slightly more than a year. He also institutionalized the job of the presiding judge in Multnomah County, converting it to a more long-term, centralized administrative office. He came to attention again in 1993 when he was appointed interim state attorney general.

Charles Sewell Crookham was born in Portland on March 17, 1923. During one of his frequent trips to Kansas, where his mother’s family was based, he got the legal bug at age nine when his uncle Sewell Beekman suggested that he get into law instead of the family automotive business. Raised in the Alameda area of Portland, he attended Fernwood Elementary and U.S. Grant High School, graduating in 1941. In the fall of 1941, he enrolled at Oregon State College, majoring in political science.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 but remained at Oregon State until called up in 1943. He was selected for the Army’s Specialized Training Program, which had been created in December 1942 to train officers for combat and subsequent occupation duties, and he was assigned to the Army Engineering School at Loyola College in Los Angeles. On Feb. 11, 1944, with a critical manpower shortage in Europe (most notably after the Italian campaign), the ASTP was discontinued, and he was assigned to an infantry division: the 89th ("the Rolling W’). The 89th went overseas in 1945 and landed at Le Havre, France, making its way to Camp Lucky Strike. It was D-Day plus 230 days. As part of General George S. Patton’s famous drive into Germany, the 89th entered combat at the Moeselle River on March 11, and saw its greatest action in crossing the Rhine into Germany.

As a company clerk for Cannon Company of the 354th Infantry Regiment, Judge Crookham sharpened his administrative skills and employed them with such great effectiveness that he received the bronze star. As one of the most eastward placed units in the 3rd Army, the 89th had the unenviable honor of being the first American division to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, the camp at Ohrdruf. After several months of combat, the 89th was assigned to general policing duties, protecting the local populations against both the incursion of random German units, and against the murderous fury of those just liberated from the camps. Lacking sufficient points to be rotated home in late 1945, Judge Crookham remained in Europe, being first transferred to the 83rd Division ("Ohio," later "Thunderbolt Division") and later the U.S. Occupation Forces in Austria. Judge Crookham called the insignia of the Austrian Occupation Forces one of the most beautiful ever devised by the Army. He finished the war with the rank of sergeant, the combat infantryman’s badge, the bronze star, the good conduct medal, the Army of occupation (Germany) medal, the WWII victory medal and campaign medals for the American and European theaters of operation.

Returning home, he used the G.I. Bill and attended Stanford University, where he graduated in political science in 1948. He then entered Stanford Law School the following fall. When the G.I. Bill ran out, he returned to Portland and completed his legal education at the old Northwestern School of Law in the Sherlock Building in downtown Portland. In 1950, he met Elizabeth Kelley, the daughter of the late Col. Alfred P. Kelley, a Lake Oswego attorney. He married Elizabeth in 1950. Passing the Oregon state bar exam in 1952, he joined the firm of Vergeer and Samuels, where he specialized in trial and later appellate practice.

After a successful law practice, in 1963 he was appointed to the Multnomah County Circuit Court by then-Gov. Mark Hatfield. He succeeded the late Judge Arno Denecke, who had gone on to the Oregon Supreme Court. Handling civil and criminal trials until 1978, he became the presiding circuit judge. Judge Crookham changed the entire tone of the office. With increased demands on the courts, particularly due to a swollen drug-case docket, and a need for more long-term administration, he continued in the position until 1985. During his tenure, he was notably successful in many tasks, not the least of which was implementation of civil case age guidelines to control the age of cases on the docket. He had one simple rule: the courts and not the attorneys controlled the dockets. He controlled cases coming and going. He made considerable use of the old Multnomah County Rule 4 docket on Wednesday afternoons to push cases towards trial, and started dismissing cases that were not moving. At the other end of the docket, he controlled postponements and systematically cut case ages down. He encouraged alternative dispute resolution, overseeing implementation of the state’s first court-annexed arbitration and mediation programs. He greatly improved the effectiveness of the Multnomah County Attorney’s Reference Manual, and used it and articles in the Multnomah Lawyer to improve court communication with the legal community. To supplement judicial strength, he maximized the use of senior and pro tem judges on a volunteer basis for both trials and the motion dockets, the latter particularly with summary judgment motions.

In handling the civil motion docket, he established a methodology from which he infrequently deviated. Every night, he would carry home the next day’s motion files and read the motions. Thus he was ready to rule. He enforced the pleading rules by demanding written arguments, and he did not encourage lengthy written arguments unless the motion had an unusual character. (A stare across his Ben Franklin glasses would usually convince an attorney that despite what the attorney thought, the motion before the judge did not have an unusual character.) Neither would he listen to lengthy oral arguments to supplement written arguments. However, this is not to say that he was not prepared to ask a few probing questions should circumstances warrant. During one motion in which he was asked to dismiss a products liability claim against a jeep manufacturer, he asked, "Why?" "Judge," replied defense counsel, "there is nothing inherently dangerous about a jeep." "Counsel," the judge replied, "you haven’t spent much time in the service, have you?"

In 1993, assisted by OSB member Kevin S. Mapes, Judge Crookham wrote the "ORCP 21 Motions" section for the Civil Pleading and Practice CLE.

He encouraged attorneys to try to resolve motions prior to filing them, but at the same time he encouraged filing multiple motions at the same time to expedite resolving issues. He did not encourage motions for reconsideration. The filing of such motions grew to such levels that Multnomah County finally had to pass an SLR banning such motions. To enforce early filings of summary judgments, he created the "45-day rule," requiring such motions to be filed 45 days prior to trial.

OSB member James H. Murchison, who was the circuit court trial court administrator in Multnomah County when Judge Crookham presided, noted "The greatest image I have held of Judge Crookham was his very droll, dry and sharp sense of humor. While it did not often show in the workplace, and he was a true professional, that sly smile often shouted out. His comments (often as an aside) could make it difficult to focus on a business conversation and not show a response to his wit."

For example, when the Council on Court Procedure replaced Roman numerals in pleadings with Arabic numbers (due to the fact that attorneys could not read Roman numerals), Judge Crookham remarked that an attorney should at least be able to read the date on the cornerstone of a federal building. On the last day Roman numerals were officially in the ORCP, Judge Crookham held a ceremony during which he delivered a eulogy commending Roman numerals’ service to the courts. While he read, a clerk played "taps" on a mandolin. The eulogy, suitably embossed with a court seal, remained posted outside presiding court for years afterward.

As with any judge, Judge Crookham rendered decisions attracting attention. After a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Portland Trailblazers refused to answer questions during a deposition concerning his alleged drug use, Judge Crookham sanctioned him for not complying with the discovery rules and dismissed his case against the Blazers. In another case, he ordered that Charlie, a dog that ran around its neighborhood attacking and killing cats, either be removed or destroyed. In one highly photographed act, he stood by a blast furnace at OHSU, and surrounded by police officers and sheriff’s deputies threw several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of seized drugs into the furnace.

An avid reader, a trademark of his life was his encyclopedic knowledge of history. He particularly enjoyed reading about the U.S. Civil War, the American Revolution, World War II and the campaigns of the British Army. He amassed a substantial library of books concentrating on the military. But he did more than just read. He lived history, and he enjoyed conversing about it. He was equally at home discussing the Battle of Hastings, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Bulge or the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He was also equally comfortable talking about the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution or the Deady Code. His office was a small museum. His breakfront was packed with items ranging from a selection of British porcelain, to cannon balls collected at some Civil War battlefield, to pieces of wood from the USS Oregon. Elsewhere one could look at a framed poster showing the route of the 89th, or a German 88mm artillery shell.

He participated in projects and sat on commissions and boards whenever interacting with history was available. In 1976, he was vice chair of the Oregon Commission on the American Revolution Bicentennial. He delighted at attending the numerous engagements associated with this group, especially when he and the other commission members were driven to the engagements in cars dating from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. In 1987 he repeated the work as the Oregon chair of the U.S. Constitution Bicentennial Commission. He was very proud of those tasks and proudly displayed the flags of both commissions in his courtroom. On June 6, 1984, the 40th anniversary of D-Day, he had his staff copy American military insignia out of an old book and tape the pages up outside his courtroom door. Many of the older attorneys flocked to the display, eagerly pointing out to the others and to the younger ones their respective unit patches. He also sat on the Oregon Geographic Names Board, and traveled across the state to attend meetings and listen to recommendations to name or rename geographic points. Judge Crookham also had a place in his heart for the USS Oregon, one of the battleships in the U.S. fleet that saw action in the Spanish-American War. He and Justice R. William Riggs coordinated an effort to obtain links from the original anchor chains from the Oregon, which Judge Crookham had located at the U.S. Naval base at Yokosuka in Japan. Justice Riggs convinced the base commander to have the Navy ship them to Portland. Both judges participated in the ceremony when the links were mounted on the ship’s shield at the Oregon memorial in Portland.

As noted by Oregon Supreme Court Justice "Mick" Gillette, Judge Crookham was essentially a Brit at heart. He enjoyed traveling back to Great Britain and the Continent on several occasions. He took his family there 1971, and, in retracing some of the steps of the 89th, and Patton’s 3rd Army, exposed them to the culture, the art, the history and the people. He took them to Great Britain again in 1974, and he and Elizabeth went over in 1981 to visit this article’s author, who was then on exchange to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. The judge’s anglophile posture lead to his membership in several groups, including the St. Andrews Society and the Chartwell Society, a group which meets annually to commemorate the birthday of Sir Winston Churchill.

As a citizen soldier, he remained active in the Army Reserve. Commissioned in 1948, he saw several postings during the next 30 years, including duty with the 364th Civil Affairs Unit at Sears Hall in Multnomah. One of his sergeants in this unit was OSB member Doug Houser. After becoming a circuit court judge, the Army transferred him to the U.S. Court of Military Appeals. He finished his duty as the admissions liaison officer for Oregon for West Point. He was retired as a full colonel at a ceremony at Fort Lewis in 1982. His list of commendations by this time had grown to include the Army commendation medal, the Army Reserve 10-year service medal (with two ten-year hourglasses), the meritorious service medal and the Army Reserve components achievement medal.

He passed the presiding judge’s gavel to the late Judge Donald H. Londer in 1985. Returning to the general trial bench, Judge Crookham presided over a lawsuit involving the alleged theft of the "Schudwiller" beer name, which had been made famous by a series of "Vern and Earl" television commercials produced by Blitz Weinhard. Vern and Earl were two intrepid truck drivers trying to smuggle Schudwiller beer into Oregon. Schudwiller was the ingenious mixture of Schlitz, Bud and Miller, and was produced by the fictional California-Eastern Brewing Company. Vern and Earl were defeated in their smuggling attempts by a member of the Oregon "beer patrol," played by Portlander Dick Curtis, who upon finding his quarry remarked: "Well now, where are you boys going with all that beer?" After running the four ads for the court, the plaintiff’s counsel asked if the judge had any questions. "Just one, counsel," said Judge Crookham, "Is there really an airstrip at Tumwater, Washington?"

In the mid-1990s Judge Crookham seized an opportunity to become part of the "living history" of World War II. In 1995 he joined with OSB member (current Judge) Dan Hyatt and filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in the case of Barber v. Widnal, 78 F.3d 1419 (1996). He and Judge Hyatt represented a World War II Army Air Force pilot named Rex Barber. On April 18, 1943, Col. (then Lt.) Barber, a member of the 339th Fighter Squadron, had been part of a detail of P-38 fighters sent to intercept planes carrying Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, chief of the Japanese navy, and most of the admiral’s key staff. Two of the bombers in the Japanese flight were shot down, and Barber received the Navy Cross. A controversy later ensued as to who actually shot down the Admiral. Col. (then Lt.) Tom Lanphier also claimed credit. In 1978, an Air Force report credited Barber and Lanphier jointly for the kill. A review board in 1985 confirmed the 1978 report. A case filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon sought to have Barber’s military record amended to receive sole credit for the kill. Judge John Jelderks granted summary judgment for the Air Force, ruling that the Air Force had not acted arbitrarily or capriciously in its ruling. The 9th Circuit affirmed Judge Jelderks. "Judge Crookham’s involvement occurred out of his interest in seeing history accurately recorded," Judge Hyatt later told the author. "He was a legal institution in this city as far as I am concerned. He will be sorely missed."

Retiring from the bench in 1987, he took a position with the firm of Bullivant Houser Bailey, specializing in arbitration and mediation cases. There he continued until his retirement in 2001. In 1992, he successfully ran for the OSB Board of Governors but resigned in 1993 (when he was appointed attorney general). He ran again in 1994 and served from 1994 to 1996.

In 1997, The Multnomah Bar Association created a law school scholarship in his name. In 1989, he was voted Legal Citizen of the Year by the Oregon Law Related Education Project.

The one interlude from private practice was that year spent as the Oregon attorney general following the resignation of David Frohnmayer in 1993. Judge Crookham filled out the unexpired term but chose not to run for re-election. In commemoration of Judge Crookham’s "promotion" to general, Judge Anna Brown provided him with a set of general’s stars. As Court of Appeals Judge Jack Landau recalls: "I suggested, somewhat tongue in cheek, that perhaps the title ‘general’ would work. Judge Crookham’s eyes noticeably twinkled at the prospect." Much to the delight of the Portland personnel, the judge chose to make use of the Department of Justice offices in Portland two days a week.

Two other trademarks of his life were his bow ties, and his birthday, St. Patrick’s Day. As to the former, his collection of ties was so large he could go a year without wearing the same tie twice. Judge Landau recalls that "Judge Crookham insisted that I learn how to tie a bow tie." As to the latter, Portland attorneys and friends emphasized the coincidence, frequently sending him Irish poems written on green metal, and once even sending him his own "Blarney stone." In good-natured fun, he never wore green on St. Paddy’s Day, but always wore one of his orange bow ties.

It was during his time at Bullivant that his eyesight began to fail. Not to be outdone by this difficulty, legal secretaries at Bullivant would prepare documents for him, and at home, members of his family would read pleadings to him.

On Oct. 14, 2004, a service was held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland. Remembrances were rendered by U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Jones, Justice Gillette and son Whitney. Pallbearers were nephew Kenneth Clark Crookham of Caldwell, Idaho, and OSB members Stuart Jones, Alan Beck, Richard Whittemore, Joel Wilson and Larry Blake. Judge Jones spoke of his longtime friendship with Judge Crookham, and that he was never "Charlie" or "Chuck" but always "Charles." Justice Gillette also commented about Judge Crookham’s particular fondness for the works of British author George McDonald Fraser. Rounding out the group, son Whitney said that his dad’s life was mainly about love: love of family, love of country and love of food — and there was a lot of food. Food was not just a meal to Judge Crookham, it was an expression, and he often expressed himself with curries, the hotter the better. Internment occurred at Riverview Cemetery, where Judge Crookham was laid to rest with full military honors rendered by an honor guard sent down from Fort Lewis.

The author, son of the late Judge Charles S. Crookham, is a political science graduate of Oregon State University and a former law student at Lewis and Clark College. He shares his father’s military history interest and concentrates on World War II and later conflicts. He is a former court clerk and since 2000 has been a legal assistant for the Sellwood firm of Marvin, Chorzempa & Larson.

Charles S. Crookham is also survived by his wife, Elizabeth, a homemaker, another son, Berkeley, and a brother, Robert Dauber Crookham. A brother-in-law, OSB member Scott M. Kelley, died in 2003.

The author, son of the late Judge Charles S. Crookham, is a political science graduate of Oregon State University and a former law student at Lewis and Clark College. He shares his father’s military history interest and concentrates on World War II and later conflicts. He is a former court clerk and since 2000 has been a legal assistant for the Sellwood firm of Marvin, Chorzempa & Larson.

Charles S. Crookham is also survived by his wife, Elizabeth, a homemaker, another son, Berkeley, and a brother, Robert Dauber Crookham. A brother-in-law, OSB member Scott M. Kelley, died in 2003.

© 2004 Berkeley Crookham

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