|Oregon State Bar Bulletin — OCTOBER 2008|
In March 2, 2008, Ken Renner unexpectedly died at age 68. At his memorial service there were hundreds of family members, friends and colleagues, and dozens of plaintiff and defendant trial lawyers, including both of us.
His service will be forever memorable. Moving reminisces were delivered by family and friends. What was unforgettable was how a memorial for Ken drew together such ardent advocates and opponents who have battled in Oregon courtrooms for decades. At this memorial, these court warriors acknowledged and greeted each other in a hospitable and genuinely friendly manner sharing stories about Ken. This gathering made all of us proud to be Oregonians. Privileged to be trial lawyers. And, thankful to be in a place and in a profession where combat in court does not mean combat in life.
In today’s court environment alternative dispute resolution all too frequently triumphs trial by jury. Many believe that the jury trial is a dying institution and that the trial lawyer is doomed to extinction. Yet the presence and camaraderie of those lawyers at Ken’s memorial reminded all of us that Oregon is a special place to be a trial lawyer.
Ken Renner became a member of the Oregon State Bar in 1968 and came to represent a generation of trial lawyers that is slowing disappearing. He was the ultimate trial lawyer. By the standards of today, Ken, like many of those gathered, was unique in that he tried a lot of cases to jury verdict. We do not see many lawyers these days who have tried many cases of all sizes, shapes and forms. Ken was one of those trial lawyers.
Ken epitomized what it means to be a trial lawyer in Oregon. He was steadfast and competent. He understood the stress that all parties experience in trial work. Yet, regardless of which side he represented, he never took unfair advantage of the other attorney, party or witnesses. He remained a gentleman in every sense of the word, never mistreating adverse parties or their attorneys. It often became apparent that a party on the other side of a case came to like and respect Ken for his demeanor and genuine courtesy. As a professional, Ken Renner always took the higher ground.
Professionalism was Ken’s mantra. He walked the talk. We never saw nor heard of him exploiting a procedural or logistical misstep. He certainly had many opportunities to do so. Ken instilled that same attitude and approach in those around him. It was made clear to those who would do otherwise that such conduct was not appropriate or necessary to win. Make no mistake, Ken was an effective and ardent advocate but he fought cases on the merits, not on personalities or petty non-issues. Ken Renner rose above the short-sighted and petty.
The business of major case civil trial work is stressful and highly competitive. Those of us in this business, experience the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and the stress of the effort it takes to try a case to jury verdict. The challenge is to treat your opponents as professionals who are doing the best they can under the circumstances with the facts and evidence that they had to work with. The goal is to try the case, not the person. Once again, Ken rose above the meanness that unfortunately can intrude into trial work and the bravado that some lawyers bring with them. Ken demonstrated by word and act that nice guys can and do finish first. Ken was appreciated and recognized as an outstanding trial lawyer, not just for his courtroom skills, but also for the high level of his professionalism.
Oregon trial lawyers are vibrant representatives of what is the best about our adversary system of justice. We trial lawyers represent a justice system where trial by jury has replaced trial by combat. Where professionalism and courtesy really do work. And where rule of law still reigns supreme.
As we listened to the stories about Ken, we felt a warm feeling of gratitude for being part of a profession in a place that appreciated and enjoyed the camaraderie we all share as members of the trial bar. It was a tribute to being a trial lawyer to have us all gather together for Ken Renner.
The spirit of Ken Renner lives on. The experience of seeing it, hearing it and feeling it during his memorial was special. Hopefully, Oregon’s trial bar will not forget Ken Renner and the manner and style in which he practiced law. Perhaps his example will reinforce in all of us who struggle in Oregon’s courts to remember that being combatants in court does not require us to be combatants in life
The authors are Oregon trial lawyers.