Oregon State Bar Bulletin — AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2006

Profiles in the Law
Dale Liberty: ‘Legal Noir’: The Write Stuff
By Melody Finnemore

Says Liberty: "I found our that if you
write books you're a writer, and if you're published you're an authour. I'm a writer.

Dale Liberty has no shortage of tales to tell. The semi-retired Canby attorney’s life spans the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, five wars and thousands of cases over a 40-year legal career.

Liberty, 82, was born in Walla Walla, Wash., and grew up there and in Pasco during the 1920s. He moved to San Francisco during the Great Depression and witnessed the labor violence of that era. He returned to Pasco to finish high school, but his senior year was interrupted by Pearl Harbor and America’s involvement in World War II.

During the war, Liberty worked for Boeing before joining the U.S. Navy and being shipped to Okinawa. There he saw the death and destruction caused not only by the war, but also by giant typhoons that devastated the Japanese islands.

Liberty returned to Oregon after the war and used the GI bill to earn a teaching degree at Lewis & Clark College. He taught speech and drama at West Linn High School for 12 years before realizing that, even with a master’s degree in education, he needed a larger salary to support his wife and two children.

With a degree from Lewis & Clark’s Northwestern School of Law, Liberty established a practice in Clackamas County and worked as a general practitioner. His cases ranged from criminal law and wrongful death to personal injuries and business law. "As a lawyer in a small town, people would ask me, ‘What kind of cases do you do?’ I’d say, ‘Well, what do you have?" he says.

Liberty served as president of the Clackamas County Bar Association and sat on both sides of the bench as judge and prosecutor in Canby. His memorable cases include defending Dayton Leroy Rogers on three separate rape charges. "I had all women on the jury and I didn’t let my guy testify, and I won all three of them," Liberty says.

Retired Canby attorney Alan Gallagher, who has known Liberty for about 15 years, says he admires Liberty’s focus on people, a product of small-town practice.

"He’s an example of the old-school lawyer. He’s always been a teacher and has educated people about how the legal system works and how it should work. The law isn’t just books – it’s people," Gallagher says. "Dale is just a pleasure to know. He’s a gracious person and a joy to talk to and occasionally get advice from."

Along with his congeniality, Liberty is well known for his passion for drama. He has acted in numerous performances at Lewis & Clark College and, later, Canby’s community theater. Liberty also served as director for Clackamas Community College. His speech and drama background complemented his legal practice to some degree, though perhaps not as much as one might think, Liberty says.

"People say, ‘Well, you’ve got all this experience. You should be wonderful at this.’ But that’s not necessarily the case because the jury can see right through that," he says.

Liberty’s legal work now mostly involves volunteering for Clackamas County Legal Aid Services. He spends much of his time writing, and has produced three legal noir novels called "To a New Life," "To Live or Not to Live" and "Strange Justice."

"I always liked to write, so when I semi-retired as an attorney I finished one book I had started and then I wrote another. I thought they were pretty good, because I had fashioned them after cases I’d done and people I’d met," he says. "I found out that if you write books you’re a writer, and if you’re published you’re an author. I’m a writer."

Though Liberty has yet to find a publisher, it doesn’t deter him from his craft. "It’s a pleasure to see something in your mind and be able to put it into words. Even if you don’t get it published, it can’t be taken away from you," he says.

Along with his adventures in teaching, the law and writing, Liberty previously worked as director of the West Linn and Clackamas County parks and recreation systems, and taught swimming and water safety as a Red Cross instructor. He is a strong supporter of the Canby library and has helped organize its book club for the last five years.

Liberty has been married to his wife, Eleanor, for more than a decade. He is twice widowed yet considers himself lucky in love and life. "I was very fortunate to have married three lovely ladies," he says. "It’s been a good life for me and I’ve enjoyed it."

Melody Finnemore is a Portland-based freelance writer.

© 2006 Melody Finnemore

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