Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JANUARY 2014

It’s easy to peg Tom Kranovich as a diversity all-star. The seasoned insurance defense litigator, former high school band director and new Oregon State Bar president has been honored with the 2001 OSB President’s Affirmative Action Award and the 2003 President’s Membership Services Award. He served for five years on the OSB Affirmative Action Committee and participated for six years in the Affirmative Action Committee’s Opportunities in Law in Oregon program. His Lake Oswego firm, Kranovich & Lucero LLC, is described on its website as “a diverse firm serving diverse clients.”

But for Kranovich, diversity is a fortunate end result of his true calling: education. He recognized its value as a kid, pursued it as a first career, absorbed it as a young bailiff and today carries it with him into the courtroom. “You’re going to be more successful as a lawyer if you teach a jury what you need them to know rather than telling them what you want them to know. The educator in me has never gone away,” he explains.

The educator is evident in almost every aspect of Kranovich’s legal career, which ranges from private practice, to handling and managing litigation for Safeco, to serving as a pro tem judge for Clackamas County and back to private practice.

Long Hair and Bell Bottoms

“He put on the best hour of Affirmative Action CLE I’ve ever seen,” says long-time friend Rod Boutin, a Lake Oswego attorney who met Kranovich when he was the outgoing president of the Clackamas County Bar and Kranovich was the incoming president-elect. Kranovich dressed as a hippie with long hair and bell bottoms to present a CLE about the history of Affirmative Action since the Civil Rights era.

When Kranovich served as a pro tem judge in small claims court, he helped clear the backed-up docket by first teaching claimants about the pros and cons of litigating a case versus settling it. He explained the risks involved in litigation, the burden of proof the claimants would have and that as the judge, he might not see the facts in the same light they did. “I explained that the biggest benefit to settling a case was that the decision was theirs as opposed to mine.” Then Kranovich suggested some strategies and options to consider and sent claimants into the courthouse corridors to talk things over. “Ninety percent of the cases settled,” he says.

“I reckon I could if I knew how”

The educator instinct in Kranovich was sharpened by a story his father used to tell. As a child growing up in rural Nevada, Kranovich’s father would ride through town with a neighbor in a wagon while others drove cars. One day his father asked the neighbor whether the man could drive a car. “I reckon I could if I knew how,” the neighbor replied. That phrase seems to have become a mantra to Kranovich.

“I grew up poor,” recalls Kranovich. “Not underprivileged and not neglected, but there wasn’t a whole lot of affluence. But there was the idea that opportunity was everywhere, you just had to go after it.”

Kranovich grew up in Aztec, New Mexico, named after the nearby 12th century ruins of ancestral Puebloans. Tom was in middle school and Aztec had a population of 3,800 in 1963 when the town was named an All-American City. The recognition honored “the community’s selfless, true-grit determination to build a highway from the town’s outskirts to newly constructed Navajo Dam,” with no public funding, according to town history. “School boys and girls raised road fund money by staging plays.”

The school children included a good number of Native American and Hispanic children who seldom mixed with whites outside of school. The Native American students were bused in from Navajo reservations and lived in dormitories during the school year. They were forbidden from speaking Navajo in school and in their dorms. In school, the kids got along fine, Kranovich recalls, but cultural misperceptions about nonwhites remained.

Overcoming His Culture

His first encounter with a black person was when he played basketball in early high school. “I had to guard a black kid from Albuquerque. I was warned about having physical contact with him and how it would feel different from contact with a white person.” Later he realized that what he’d heard didn’t jive with reality. “I had to overcome my culture,” he says.

He also realized that he was taught to expect a future different from what the nonwhite students expected. “I always knew I’d go to college. I doubt many Native American and Hispanic kids were told that. I began to wonder, why is it that I know there is opportunity there for me, a poor white kid, but not everyone else does?” he recalls.

Perhaps because of support from his father, an electrician who went broke when Tom was in high school and moved the family to Fairbanks, Alaska. “I spent my 16th birthday on the Al-Can Highway at Watson Lake,” Kranovich says, “It’s a trip I liken to the migration scene in ‘Grapes of Wrath.’ ”

Despite their economic struggles, Tom’s father always encouraged him. Moving from a semi-desert region to the edge of the Arctic, from a high school class of 120 to a class of 360, from a group of kids he grew up with to a group he’d never met, may have seemed daunting to a 16-year-old, but Kranovich’s father assured him, “You can do this.”

Kranovich found acceptance in basketball and music, two activities where his skills mattered more than who he knew, where he grew up or what his father did. He excelled at both.

“We’re all in this together”

Kranovich’s friend Boutin grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and suspects Alaskan culture, bred by the harsh winters and short summers, may have played a role in Kranovich’s embrace of diversity.

“It’s a short and furious summer and a long winter in Alaska, especially in Fairbanks,” he explains. “Alaskans turn out for summer with great joie de vivre. But in winter you learn that we’re either all in this together or we won’t survive. White, black, Eskimo, Inuit — it doesn’t matter. If there is a car in the ditch, you get out and help.”

After high school, Kranovich majored in music at the University of Oregon. His first teaching job was in Redmond, Ore., where he encountered his first lawyer. “I never met a lawyer until I negotiated teacher contracts as the union representative for the Redmond Education Association,” Kranovich says. “I never thought people like me could be a lawyer.”

After he took a teaching job in Lake Oswego, an area where he thought there would be more opportunity for professional growth, a family friend started to change his mind.

Friend, Mentor Sees Potential

Eric Larson, a partner in the Portland law firm Gevurtz Menashe, recognized Tom’s potential before he even considered law school. “I encouraged him to pursue law as a career,” says Larson. “He had the essential ingredients of a good lawyer: a good heart, a bright mind, and he was a good listener. I noticed this about him three decades ago. I think it comes from being a teacher.”

Larson recognized other strengths as well. “He had fire in his belly. He was quiet, but competitive when he needed to be. These are traits you can’t coach, can’t teach. But they make a good lawyer.”

Kranovich was married and working as the Lake Oswego High School band director when he decided to apply to Lewis & Clark’s night law school. He was wait-listed, then admitted at the last minute. He got the acceptance call Saturday morning, just a few hours before orientation was to begin. He was in his first class by Monday evening.

Kranovich’s plate was full. “I worked evenings as a band director, so I missed about 25 percent of my classes,” Kranovich admits. He recalls being called out of real property class during second semester of his first year for the birth of his first son. (He has two grown sons now.) After a year, he resigned his teaching position.

That summer Eric Larson called Kranovich and asked him if he’d like to see a trial. Larson was called into the judge’s chambers during the hearing and he invited Kranovich to follow. There Kranovich met Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Dale Jacobs and his bailiff.

“Call him Your Honor”

A week later, the bailiff changed jobs and Larson spotted an opportunity for Kranovich. “Eric called me and said, ‘You have an interview with Dale Jacobs in a half-hour. Call him Your Honor.’ Then he hung up. The week after that I went to work for him,” recalls Kranovich.

That was the beginning of his real legal education. Judge Jacobs encouraged Kranovich to talk to the lawyers during breaks and ask questions. “He allowed me to participate and learn. He was an excellent mentor.”

During trials, Kranovich watched what the attorneys said and how they presented evidence. “After a while, I was able to anticipate what exhibits the lawyers and the D.A.s were going to need.”

“The people who I learned from were not formal mentors. I just watched them.” He rattles off a few names, “…Sid Brockley, Fred Canning.”

Larson recognized the value for Kranovich. “He listened to others in court. He saw good lawyering and shoddy lawyering. He listened and learned what works.”

The Lighter Side of Court

He also saw the lighter side of courtroom life. He remembers swearing in Judge Bob Burns as a witness and keeping a solemn face while Burns, his back to the courtroom, made faces at the bailiff.

He witnessed a courtroom marijuana sting when police acted on a tip that someone was going to deliver marijuana to a prisoner during a one o’clock criminal arraignment by taping a packet of the drug under a chair in the jury box where the prisoner would sit. Boxes and boxes of evidence were stacked in the courtroom for a trial, so police hid a camera among the stacks pointing at the jury box.

Sure enough, the camera caught a woman slowly opening the courtroom door during the lunch recess, creeping into the empty room and attaching something to the bottom side a jury chair. She crept back out and police slipped in to confirm that the hidden package was indeed marijuana. It was, and after the prisoner was caught during the arraignment slipping his hand under his chair to remove the packet, the cast of characters was arrested. The unrelated trial reconvened smoothly at 1:30.

Kranovich witnessed approximately 75 jury trials as a bailiff and often was responsible for sitting outside the jury room during deliberations. “That was instructional,” he says. “Occasionally I could hear the jury when things got emotional, and it was almost always over something that was not relevant to the case. The take-away: You never know what a jury is going to think is important.”

As bailiff, Kranovich developed relationships with attorneys that he enjoys to this day. When he passed the bar in 1982, Judge Jacobs offered to perform a private swearing-in in his courtroom. Jim Redman, a long-time Milwaukie attorney who served as OSB vice president that year, attended the swearing-in to welcome Kranovich to the bar. This past summer, Redman was honored by the bar as a 50-year member and Kranovich was pleased to attend as president-elect to congratulate Redman.

A Lawyer’s Lawyer

“He’s a lawyer’s lawyer,” says Larson, Kranovich’s long-time friend. “Lawyers trust him. One of the things I’ve learned over 41 years is that if you trust the lawyer on the other side, it helps get things resolved.”

Kranovich has now assumed the role of mentor. During his tenure with Safeco — as a litigator from 1988 to 1995 and managing attorney from 1995 to 2001 — he provided leadership for other attorneys and law students. Attorney David Hytowitz joined Safeco in 1999 after his firm, Pozzi Wilson, dissolved. He had been practicing plaintiffs’ law for more than 23 years and suddenly found himself on the defense side. “Tom helped me transition to a different role,” Hytowitz says. “He gave me the opportunity to meet people on the defense side and see how things were done.”

Kranovich also met his current law partner, Angela Lucero, while he was at Safeco. She was a law student participating in the Lewis & Clark Minority Law Student Association and was hired for a clerkship at Safeco. Although she didn’t work directly for Kranovich, she says he made sure clerks got the experience he thought they should have.

Tom left the company in 2001 and started his own firm, hiring Lucero to do contract work after she passed the bar. He eventually brought her on board as an associate and partnered with her in 2009.

“I quickly learned how patient Tom was,” Lucero says. “As a new lawyer you don’t know what you don’t know. Now, looking back, I realize and greatly appreciate the time and energy Tom put into teaching me how to be a lawyer.”

The teaching was not the challenge for Kranovich. “The hardest thing for me in hiring an associate and having her evolve was to step back and stop teaching, to let her become self-reliant,” he says.

“I can see when that happened,” Lucero reflects. “Slowly he started pushing me, letting me go, giving me greater responsibility.” She remembers the first time she felt truly on her own. Kranovich had arbitrated a bodily injury case involving a 12-year-old boy as the plaintiff. “You’re going to take this case to trial,” he announced to Lucero when the case didn’t resolve via arbitration. “I’m a six-foot, seven-inch man. I don’t want to be perceived as beating up on this boy. It will come across better in front of jury if it comes from you.” Lucero had been out of law school for a year. “Looking back I can see Tom thinking, okay, you need to feel confident in yourself.”

“Mentors need to be more than the mountain the students come to,” Kranovich says. He views Eric Larson as a mentoring role model, although Larson says he really was just a long-time friend. “He set the example for me of how easy it is to do something for a young law student,” says Kranovich.

Bridge Builder

Kranovich sees his role as bar president as a bridge builder, extending the reach of the Oregon State Bar to attorneys diverse in age, geography and area of practice, as well as gender and ethnicity. But that won’t be his only focus.

“It’s a disservice to assume Tom is one-dimensional because his sense of fairness goes beyond the inclusion issue,” cautions Boutin. “He has been a small business owner and knows the challenges faced by other small business owners, but he also knows what it’s like to run a large department with a big budget. Tom’s had his foot in both worlds and brings that experience to his leadership.”

Education will be an obvious focus. “The OSB is an organization every lawyer can be proud of. Until I went on the Board of Governors, I had no idea of the scope of OSB programs and services. We have to ask: How do we effectively let people know of the services we provide?”

Sounds like a good question for an educator.


Karen McGlone is a freelance writer who writes frequently about the legal industry.

© 2014 Karen McGlone

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