Oregon State Bar Bulletin — AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2006


Racism Still a Problem
I recently watched (June 2, 2006) an OSB Professional Responsibility Fund video replay of an accredited CLE entitled: "Rebuilding Your Practice After Disaster Strikes." I was shocked and offended by the racist remarks of a presenter made during the presentation. This joke was made in a room full of professionals and there was laughter. No one spoke up. No one protested or challenged the speaker on his remarks.

This remark was not made by an Oregon attorney and it was not initially made in Oregon or to an Oregon audience. But the remark and the reaction of those present demonstrates that racism is alive and flourishing in the U.S. and in our profession.

Here in Oregon we are involved in a controversy about the Elimination of Bias CLE requirement. I don't think anyone really believes that racism, sexism and homophobia have been eliminated in Oregon. I don't. I see it daily, not just in the streets, stores and local media, but in the courts and law offices and in the behavior of judges and attorneys.

As a profession we enjoy special privileges. Among those is a level of access to the court system and to "justice" not available to non-attorneys. I believe this privilege carries a responsibility as well. Our responsibility is to see that the people we deal with, not just our clients, are treated with respect and dignity and that access to our legal system is available to everyone on a fair and equal basis. How do we assure that this happens? We have a professional organization to set standards and enforce them.

Racism in our society and our profession continues to adversely effect many people in our state. Those who would deny this are hiding in the dark. The problem is right here in front of us and it will not go away on its own. The Elimination of Bias requirement was an attempt to bring this problem to light and to address it. It may not be the perfect solution, but those clambering for its elimination have not offered up much in the way of alternatives to deal with this problem. The emperor has no clothes (racism, sexism, etc. are problems in Oregon) and we need to keep pointing it out one way or another.

And what of the CLE? I contacted the PLF and pointed out the remarks. I am happy to report that they responded quickly. They have reviewed the video and agree that the remarks were inappropriate. The last I heard, they intend to pull this video from circulation.

Finally, we might question the relevance here in Oregon of a video made somewhere else. I know I'm not the only Oregon attorney that has seen this video, but I believe I am the only Oregon attorney that has pointed out the inappropriateness of the remarks to the PLF. If I was not already concerned about the lack of awareness of and tolerance for racism among Oregon attorneys, this would concern me.

Racism and bias are a problem in Oregon and in our legal system. We need to devise successful strategies to address this problem. Right now the CLE requirement is what we have. Let's not get rid of it until we have something to replace it.

Matthew Johnson

Successes Worth Noting
I write regarding the Profiles in the Law article by Cliff Collins about Jefferson Smith ("Active in the Forum," June 2006). My apologies for the late letter, but during the summertime I do not stay on top of my reading as I should.

This article is important because it highlights how important public service is to the practice of law. As a lawyer, I have a duty to use my skills to help our community. I am developing the habits of public service at a young age instead of putting it off until that great day when I really think I got the law figured out. I have a strong suspicion that day will never come. Another benefit to the volunteer work is learning about different practice areas from other practitioners.

The Oregon Bus Project is a great way for young lawyers to get involved in their community. From registering and educating voters to public policy advocacy, the Bus Project has an abundance of opportunities.

Finally, in listing the Bus Project’s successes, Mr. Collins left out some of the Bus Project’s more impressive accomplishments. For instance, in 2002, the Bus Project knocked on the doors of 70,000 Oregonians, and in 2004, 100,000 doors were knocked on by the volunteers of the Oregon Bus Project. These were both election years. The Bus Project’s thousands of volunteers spent many a beautiful Oregon weekend talking to voters about our state and our government. I think it important the readers of the Bulletin learn this, too.

Jason A. Skelton

Clarifying Gun Laws
"Unintended Consequences" (July 2006) addressed the complex interplay between federal domestic violence gun laws and a number of state laws. The federal laws prohibit possession of firearms by respondents subject to qualifying protective orders or defendants convicted of crimes statutorily defined as "misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence." The purpose of these laws is to provide increased safety for victims and the community. Before these laws apply, respondents and defendants are entitled to significant procedural safeguards. Restraining orders must have been entered after a hearing of which the respondent had actual notice and an opportunity to be heard. Defendants in misdemeanor cases are entitled to representation by counsel or trial by jury, if available under state law, unless these procedural protections are knowingly waived. The laws do not apply if a conviction has been expunged.

Also, during the existence of a qualifying protective order, an exception allows certain government employees (police or military personnel) to possess firearms for "official use" only. This exemption does not apply to those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. The federal prohibitions do not attach if a protective order is dismissed or if there is no conviction.

The article may have created some confusion about this important area of law. The Oregon Judicial Department’s website at www.ojd.state.or.us/osca/cpsd/ courtimprovement/familylaw/index.htm provides a link to the very helpful Judge’s Handbook on State and Federal Firearms Laws – April 2004. I would be happy to provide attorneys with additional resources.

Robin Selig
Oregon Law Center

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