Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JANUARY 2004

The Problem Solver
Bill Carter — lawyer, arbitrator, mediator and volunteer
— is the OSB’s new president

By Cliff Collins

Carter is a familiar face in the Jackson County legal community. The former county bar president is pictured here in the chambers of Judge Mark S. Schiveley.
In the Oregon State Bar’s 68-year history, only four OSB presidents have hailed from the Medford-Ashland area. Meet No. 5, William G. Carter of Medford, who decided to run for president 'because I felt that for the bar to have credibility as a balanced, statewide bar, it should periodically have a president from Eastern or Southern Oregon, with a solo or small-firm background and perspective.

'My perspective is that of the small-firm lawyer from a small town,' he says. 'I understand what a lawyer in that situation needs.'

Carter first became involved in volunteer bar work in 1985, when he became president of the Jackson County Bar. He then served in leadership posts during the 1990s on the State Professional Responsibility Board, the Minimum Continuing Legal Education Board, and the Disciplinary Board. He was elected to the Board of Governors in 2001 and served last year as president-elect. He became the OSB’s 69th president this month and will serve through 2004.

Carter says service to the bar comes to him naturally. 'As a litigator, I was always battling against lawyers in court. I find it very satisfying to work together with other lawyers to solve common problems,' he says. 'Lawyers are intelligent, interesting people on the whole, but you don’t get to enjoy them when you’re going against them in court.'

Although born in Berkeley, Calif., Bill Carter was raised in the Medford area and considers himself a fifth-generation Oregonian. Two of his great-great grandfathers came to Oregon’s Rogue Valley in the 1850s. His great-grandfather, Frank H. Carter, was a mayor of Ashland, and his grandfather, George R. Carter, was Jackson County clerk for 20 years.

Bill’s father, Robert, was an industrial building contractor who settled his family on the farm and orchard that had been in the family for a century, outside of Talent near Ashland. Carter’s mother, Alicia, who was born in Nicaragua, met Robert Carter in Medford while on vacation from San Jose State College, where she was a student.

Both Carter sons chose career paths in the law. Bill Carter’s brother, Bob, attended Yale Law School and was a longtime professor at Rutgers University School of Law in New Jersey until his recent retirement. Bill Carter graduated from Medford High School (University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer was a classmate) and UO, as well as 'the U of O Law School in Fenton Hall, under the watchful eye of Dean Orlando John Hollis,' he says.

Carter’s first job was in Roseburg as a deputy district attorney for Douglas County. After three years there, he moved to Medford in 1968 as a sole practitioner with a general practice, handling everything from murder cases to workers’ compensation to business law. He served as Medford’s municipal judge for a few years, and represented several small towns as city attorney. In 1975, Carter joined Robert Grant and William Ferguson in the trial practice firm of Grant, Ferguson, Carter, PC.

Grant, a former member of the OSB Board of Governors, said that after Ferguson retired in 1988, he leased from and shared an office with Carter until Grant retired in 1997. They kept separate practices but referred cases to each other. Grant, whom Carter considered one of his role models, said he and Ferguson brought in Carter because 'we felt he had a great potential, and it certainly proved to be true.' Grant describes Carter as 'extremely well-organized, diligent and conscientious. He’s always well-prepared. He doesn’t waste words, and is very succinct.'

Other local lawyers who were early influences on and helped Carter included former OSB President James Richmond, Paul Geddes and Dudley Walton — all from Roseburg — and Medford’s Carl M. Brophy and Otto Frohnmayer. Carter says Frohnmayer was 'a real public-spirited individual who was tremendously helpful to me as a young lawyer hanging out my shingle.'

Carter’s solo practice evolved into a general trial practice, with an emphasis on insurance defense and family law. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Crain, who has known Carter since 1977 and faced him often in domestic relations cases during her years practicing law, says he was 'a formidable opponent in the courtroom,' yet brought a sense of civility because of his belief that resolution was the best solution for all parties.

Crain explains that Southern Oregon has experienced the highest number of cases per judge 'for years and years,' but at the same time has resolved a high percentage of those cases. The reason is that dealings among lawyers in that area are marked by 'amity and cooperation and respect, and our goal has been to resolve cases,' she says. 'Bill Carter has been a leader in that attitude. He set a tremendous example for newer lawyers.'

In fact, in the last few years he has limited his practice to mediation and arbitration. In 2000, Carter spent most of the year as a circuit judge pro tem for Jackson County, resigning to serve on the OSB Board of Governors. Jim Adams, trial court administrator for the county, describes Carter as the type of person who 'always puts everyone else first.' He says Carter is 'a local civic activist (and) a voice of reason in the areas of social responsibility and justice. He understands the practical, day-to-day challenges of the underserved. He really has made just numerous efforts to try to educate the people and get the word out.'

Carter tried many cases under Senior Judge Ross G. Davis, a district and circuit court judge in Medford for three decades, who first met Carter in 1969 when he was assistant D.A. in Roseburg. Davis says Carter 'always was very smart, but always well-prepared. He always knew what his client’s position was and knew what (his opponents’) position was.' He adds that Carter invariably was 'a gentleman' and valued professionalism. 'He was, however, far from a pushover in court — an excellent but not rude advocate.'

According to Davis, Carter’s 'credibility with the court was impeccable. ... I can speak for all the judges. Bill Carter’s reputation (was one of) impeccable integrity — honest, straightforward. I can’t think of a nicer honor, and a more deserved honor, than for him to be president.'

Any bar president will tell you that meetings are a part of the job description. Here, Carter (far right) meets with Oregon Chief Justice Wallace P. Carson Jr., Jackson County Presiding Judge Mark S. Schiveley and state Rep. Rob Patridge to discuss judicial department funding.
Embarking on his presidency, Carter sees many challenges ahead for the OSB. In recent years, the Board of Governors has emphasized issues such as access to justice and judicial funding. This focus will continue, he says, joined by new emphases on improvement of the disciplinary process and member services.

Last year, a special committee of bar volunteers concluded a study of the disciplinary process, and in September the House of Delegates adopted, with some amendments, the new Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct. The bar then sent the proposal to the Oregon Supreme Court for review. 'The rules, if adopted, would bring Oregon more closely in compliance with the rules of 45 of the other 50 states — including our reciprocal partner states of Washington and Idaho — and those studied in the law schools, yet retain the aspects of the disciplinary rules that are unique to Oregon,' Carter says.

The Board of Governors also is proposing changes to the Local Professional Responsibility Committees designed to reduce or eliminate much of the delay in the discipline process. 'The board’s consensus is that delays of months and in some cases, two or three years, were grossly inequitable to both attorneys and clients,' he says.

Oregon has long been a leader in member services, and now is expanding those, Carter explains. He cites such OSB accomplishments as the Professional Liability Fund, which 'remains unique in the nation,' offering guaranteed coverage at reasonable rates. The PLF board this year added coverage to include the patent bar and will be increasing the optional excess coverage to $10 million. The PLF’s Oregon Attorney Assistance Program and State Lawyers Assistance Committee are widely emulated across the country, as is the Law Practice Management department of the PLF.

After an initial successful pilot program under former President Lawrence B. Rew of Pendleton, the bar inaugurated a Consumer Assistance Office in 2003. Designed to operate on the model of an ombudsman, the office will field complaints and inquiries, and either attempt to resolve issues and disputes or refer them to the appropriate department. Ethical matters will continue to be referred to disciplinary counsel.

Operating since August, the office already has experienced success. 'The Board of Governors feels that this office has great potential to resolve misunderstandings between lawyers and their clients. I think the CAO will provide early resolution to potential problems that, if left to fester, could turn into malpractice cases or ethical complaints.

'I believe many problems are caused by overloaded lawyers who fail to attend to problem cases, or who neglect to communicate with the client. This office will give us early warning on both types of problems.' Chris Mullmann, who directs the office, says that by mid-November he had had 1,000 calls to his office, and 66 percent of them were resolved the same day. 'That represents six or seven hundred cases that won’t turn into ethical complaints or malpractice matters,' says Carter. 'When cases do need to be turned over to disciplinary counsel, Jeff Sapiro and his staff do a great job in a very difficult role. The only fine-tuning I see as necessary is the constant effort to shorten the timeline on resolution of discipline cases.'

Another new member services program is Casemaker online legal research. Activated in September, it already had been used by some 19 percent of the active membership in the first two months of operation. 'I am hopeful that this will rank with the PLF as one of our best member services, especially to solos and small firms, offering an excellent alternative to the commercial services at a tiny fraction of the cost. We are already discussing the possibility of adding to the Casemaker database. LUBA, workers’ compensation and early Supreme Court cases are among the areas under consideration. Casemaker may also be extended to law students — without additional cost to the bar.'

Carter says many other member services are under consideration, but the Board of Governors wants to proceed cautiously and study proposals carefully. 'We are cognizant of the need to avoid dues increases unless there is broad consensus that a proposed benefit is worth the money,' he says. One proposal is to put all CLE publications online, possibly with interactive forms. Early estimates are that for $90 to $100 in dues per year, every member would have access to the entire CLE library, which if purchased individually would cost $6,000.

'This will not happen unless the members express broad support,' says Carter. 'Obviously this would benefit the small-town, small-firm general practitioner, while it might be of little benefit to the urban specialist.'

Other methods of MCLE delivery are being studied. The CLE programs department is offering many hours of CLE via streaming video and audio, whereby lawyers can watch programs at their offices. 'To members in areas like Ontario, Enterprise, Lakeview and Gold Beach, the cost of travel to attend CLE programs can be prohibitive, and we view this as another important member benefit,' says Carter.

The bar is working on various methods of using the Internet to save time and money, including electronic dues paying, registration for programs, ordering publications, voting and maintenance of MCLE records. 'We are also going to take a fresh look at helping to facilitate electronic filing and court appearances. A lawyer I talked to in John Day had to either drive several hours each way, to attend bankruptcy hearings in either Pendleton or Bend, or associate with another attorney to do it for him. We will be working on 21st century solutions to problems like this.'

Still, Carter says: 'With 12,500 independent-minded active members, we know that we won’t be able to keep them all happy. A subject about which we hear many complaints is the diversity MCLE requirement. This was strongly supported by former Chief Justice Ed Peterson, and was approved by the state supreme court.' At the 2002 House of Delegates meeting, resolutions to eliminate the requirement altogether and to make it a one-time-only requirement both were defeated. 'It is the ‘law of the bar’ at present, and I would urge members to give it a try for one or two reporting periods to test its efficacy and member acceptance.'

Bill Carter’s family took a moment from Thanksgiving Day festivities for this family snapshot. Front row: Granddaughter Kate, 6, Carter, and granddaughter Emma, 4.; back row: Daughter-in-law Julie Carter, son Andrew Carter, son-in-law Larry Wikander, daughter Liz, and Carter’s wife, Barbara Carter.
Carter and his wife, Barbara, will celebrate their 40th anniversary this August. Barbara Carter’s degree was in education, and she taught school in Springfield and Medford. Their daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Larry Wikander, live in Eugene, where Elizabeth is a historical preservation consultant. The Carters’ son, Andrew, and his wife, Julie, and daughters, Kate, 6, and Emma, 4, live in Lake Oswego. Andrew is a financial consultant with Smith Barney in Portland.

Carter likes to golf, and spends most leisure time with family. He and his wife have owned a condo in San Diego for a number of years and are frequent visitors to Eugene in the fall. 'We are avid UO football fans, and I try at least once a year to have a football reunion with my Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers in Eugene.' The couple also enjoys travel, and planned a two-week trip to Kenya and Tanzania this month.

Jackson County’s Adams observes that the Carters make the perfect team. 'He just adores his wife,' says Adams. 'His wife adds to Bill’s richness.' The Carters, he concludes, are 'very special people.'

To prepare for his year as president, Carter visited local bar associations around the state. 'I usually tell them that I consider myself the complaint department and the suggestion box for the bar.' He invites members to contact him with questions, suggestions or comments either through the bar center or his office in Medford.

'Any Board of Governors member will tell you that when you sign on, you’d better be prepared to sacrifice a lot of professional and personal time, and a significant amount of income,' Carter says. 'Several past presidents told me that it took substantially more than half of their time. Multiply that by a typical hourly rate, and you get the picture. Once you make that commitment, however, it is a very rewarding experience.

'I’m having a great time with this. I believe our bar is one of the best, if not the best, in the nation, and our programs are frequently models for other states. The Board of Governors, the House of Delegates members, the bar staff and the hundreds of member volunteers on sections, committees and other groups are smart, motivated people, all pulling in the same direction to improve the bar. I think most members appreciate the effort. I would encourage everyone to participate in some way.'

Cliff Collins, a Portland-area freelance writer, is a frequent Bulletin contributor.

© 2004 Cliff Collins

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