Oregon State Bar Bulletin — NOVEMBER 2006

Profiles in the Law
Ellen F. Rosenblum: Setting an Example
By Cliff Collins

Rosenblum: "It is instinctively important to me to try to make the profession more diverse, and to be involved in judicial ethics.

Because she did not want her generation that finished law school in the mid-’70s to be "the first and last" where women had more than token representation, Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Ellen F. Rosenblum has felt an obligation to be an active role model.

"It is instinctively important to me to try to make the profession more diverse, and to be involved in judicial ethics," says Rosenblum. In peer recognition of her dedication, this fall she was named chair of the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation. The foundation is an affiliate — what she calls the "intellectual arm" — of the American Bar Association, which conducts multidisciplinary empirical research to improve legal institutions.

Rosenblum, who grew up in Evanston, Ill., first heard about the foundation through her father, Victor, who was a law professor at Northwestern University for 47 years. The foundation rents space from the law school. She later became a fellow, and eventually Western regional chair.

It was not a foregone conclusion — at least to her — that Rosenblum, one of eight children, would become a lawyer just because of her father’s influence. She was the family member who argued the most at the dinner table, she says, but finished the University of Oregon at age 20 as a sociology major not knowing what she was going to do. After one year of unsatisfying work, she entered law school at the U of O more or less by default, feeling no particular aptitude for science, business or the arts.

Rosenblum clerked at and ended up working for "a very good, small firm" in Eugene, where she immediately was given the opportunity to argue cases before the Oregon Court of Appeals. She says this gave her the opportunity to do things she would not have gotten to do for years had she been with a larger firm. She had been one of the first "Nader’s Raiders" in Oregon, and expected to work for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group or a similar organization, but liked the job she accepted.

She spent five years in private practice, which included representing author Ken Kesey in his lawsuit against the filmmaker of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," and continued to represent the Kesey family. She then served eight years as assistant U.S. attorney, first in Eugene for one year, and then in Portland. She was ready to move to a larger city, she says. She married Richard H. Meeker, who became publisher of Willamette Week. The couple raised two children, and all the while, Rosenblum continued to work as a federal prosecutor and later as a judge.

As she litigated more and more cases, Rosenblum’s interest in becoming a judge developed gradually. "Observing what they did, I thought: Maybe I could do that, as well or better," she says, noting that for years, there were few female judges. "A lot of my motivation was to develop the diversity in Oregon of the bar and the bench."

In 1989, she was appointed to the Multnomah County District Court, and four years later, to the Circuit Court. She spent a combined total of 16 years at what became the Circuit Court. In 2005, Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed her to the Court of Appeals.

Out of court, Rosenblum loves singing. For her 50th birthday, she rented a club and invited 120 friends to her one-woman show.

Rosenblum’s volunteer work is vast. She chaired the Oregon Judicial Conference Judicial Conduct Committee for nine years. It issues ethics advisory opinions to judges and judicial candidates based on the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct. She served as president of the Owen M. Panner American Inn of Court; initiated the Courthouse Connections program of Oregon Women Lawyers; and speaks frequently on attorney and judicial ethics, as well as motion and trial practice.

Rosenblum has been a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates since 1988. She became an ABA member right out of law school, a gift from her father to encourage her involvement. Her ABA work has included serving as secretary of the association; advising a commission that is revising the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct; serving on the ABA’s Coalition for Justice and its Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession; and serving as special adviser to the ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independence.

Rosenblum has received the Oregon Women Lawyers Justice Betty Roberts Award for promoting women in the profession; the Oregon State Bar President’s Public Service Award; Lewis & Clark Law School’s Andrea Swanner Redding Mentoring Award and Honorary Alumna Award; the University of Oregon Law School Meritorious Service Award; and the Multnomah Bar Association Award of Merit.

"I love being a judge, but I am not sure I would be happy simply judging," she says. "I think it’s very important for judges to be out there in the community, explaining what we do."

Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Bulletin.

© 2006 Cliff Collins

return to top
return to Table of Contents