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Calling an end to his dream job

Portland lawyer Haselton retires after 22 years on Oregon Court of Appeals.


COURTESY PHOTO - Judge Rick Haselton is stepping down after serving more than 20 years on the bench.Rick Haselton of Portland gives up his dream job at the end of 2015.

As a judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals for a record 21 years and 10 months — and its chief judge for almost four years — he says he will not miss the daily commute to Salem.

He will have more time to travel with his wife Sura Rubenstein, an independent journalist and former report and religion editor for The Oregonian.

They have a daughter, Malia Haselton, a 25-year-old Marine second lieutenant stationed in California.

He will continue to work as a judge 35 days in each of the next five years to qualify for higher retirement benefits.

But the 62-year-old Haselton says he will miss the court where he has spent almost two-thirds of his legal career.

“How many people get to do what they dream about doing in their lives, even for a little while? I’ve gotten to do it every day for almost 22 years,” he said in a recent interview. “I get up every morning trying to be conscious of that and being grateful for it. I cannot imagine any better work for a lawyer.”

Judge Erika Hadlock will succeed Haselton as chief judge, and Portland lawyer Scott Shorr will assume Haselton’s seat on the 13-member court.

A month before his retirement, Haselton returned to West Albany High School (then Albany Union) as one of three Court of Appeals judges hearing cases, which the court sometimes does outside Salem and Oregon’s three law schools.

It was a special moment for Haselton, whose mother taught there but left in 1968, and who graduated there in 1972. Judge Jim Egan, who also is a graduate of the school, joined him and Hadlock.

“I was on automatic pilot.; I could find my old locker,” Haselton says. “So I was home.”

Three cases of note

Judges often hesitate to single out specific opinions — Haselton estimates he has exceeded 1,000 of them in more than two decades on the appeals court — but Haselton did mention three that have drawn attention.

The most recent, back in 2014, upheld much of the 2011 decision by the Metro Council and three counties to designate areas where Portland and its suburbs can and cannot develop in the next 50 years.

But that opinion also asked them to muster additional evidence to support a specific rural reserve designation in Multnomah County and an urban reserve designation for the Stafford area in Clackamas County. (State lawmakers stepped in afterward to resolve reserve issues in Washington County.)

“It was a hard case, not sexy, but one with huge implications … when you talk about what a good part of the state is going to look like for years,” Haselton says.

With 22 plaintiffs challenging the 2011 decision, 36,000 pages in the hearing record and an opinion of more than 100 pages, he says it was easily one of the court’s most complex cases in recent history.

Haselton was the chief dissenter from a 2000 opinion that upheld a mandatory prison sentence of more than six years — as determined by the 1994 ballot measure known as Measure 11 — on a 16-year-old boy who had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1996 in Clackamas County.

Because the boy believed the girl was 14 — within a two-year age difference — and she had initiated their contact, the trial judge imposed a sentence of just under three years and declared the mandatory term an unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” punishment. But in one of its rare cases involving all its judges, the Court of Appeals reinstated the longer sentence by a 6-4 vote.

Haselton wrote in his dissent: “There is no reported case of a 16-year-old in the United States ever receiving a mandatory minimum sentence of over six years in prison for statutory rape. Because that result is so fundamentally unfair as to shock the conscience of any reasonable person, I dissent.”

Less weighty than those cases, but one that drew far more attention from the public, was the fate of Snowball the deer.

In 2008, Haselton led a three-judge panel that sided with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and reversed a Clackamas County judge, who had ordered the release of Snowball to a Molalla couple that nursed the black-tailed deer back to health.

Haselton says he normally avoids news accounts about any case likely to come before the appeals court.

“But I could not escape this. Snowball was all over the news from the trial court. I knew it was going to get a lot of coverage,” he recalls.

“I told my wife that when I die, my epitaph is going to have some reference to Snowball.”

A busy court

At between 3,000 and 3,800 cases — 60 percent of them involving criminal appeals and juvenile dependency — the Oregon Court of Appeals is one of the busiest of the nation’s 39 intermediate-level state courts. (The highest state courts, including Oregon’s, accept only a fraction of their appeals.)

Electronic files have replaced manila folders, but the work is still there.

“I do not want to exaggerate, but it’s well over 10,000 pages of reading per month, by the time you get through the lawyers’ briefs, their attachments and the draft opinions you and others prepare,” Haselton says. “And that’s just the reading.”

Based on its most recently available public report, the Court of Appeals issued 471 written opinions in 2011, an average of about 50 per judge, including the chief judge who administers the workload.

Lawmakers in 2011 authorized a new panel, which expanded the court from 10 to 13 judges in October 2013, about 18 months after Haselton became its chief judge. It was the first expansion since 1977. But the National Center on State Courts concluded in a 2010 study that the appeals court’s workload could easily justify adding many more judges.

Although total filings with the appeals court have dropped in recent years, Haselton says many cases have become more complex, especially those involving juvenile dependency.

“When I first came onto the court, what we would see is an occasional case of termination of parental rights on appeal — the end of that process. What has happened recently … is pancaking appeals,” which cover multiple steps in the process and can occur simultaneously.

Back in 2007 and 2008, he says, the court averaged 60 to 80 juvenile dependency cases. In 2011, the court logged 158; this year, 260.

“Those cases go to the top of our stacks. Not only do we have far more of those cases showing up … but they all have a short fuse over them,” he says.

Criminal appeals are second in priority, followed by civil and divorce cases. Haselton says he worries about a backlog of more than 100 such appeals that have been awaiting resolution for a year or two.

“Yet I know of no one here who does not look forward coming to work every day," he says.

Beginnings to a dream

Haselton was raised by a single mother, who taught English at Albany Union High School — now West Albany — where he graduated in 1972. His uncle Bill Schantz, a tax lawyer turned business professor at Portland State University, “was the closest thing I had to a father for a long time.”

“Other than teaching and journalism, law was the thing that made the most sense,” Haselton says. “I was very idealistic — that I could maybe help make a difference by being a lawyer — and I think some of that still carries over.”

Influenced by media portrayals of lawyers in shows such as “Perry Mason” and “The Defenders,” Haselton ended up at Yale Law School, where one of his classmates was Sonia Sotomayor, who became a U.S. Supreme Court justice in 2009.

“One of the ways we became good friends was that we did a trial-practice competition together as teammates,” he says. “So I did not do the classic appellate moot court you see in a lot of law schools. I thought it would be kind of boring.”

Haselton's view changed after he earned his law degree in 1979 and he spent the next year as a law clerk for Judge Alfred T. “Ted” Goodwin of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland. Goodwin was a World War II veteran and Eugene newspaper reporter before going to law school himself and becoming a circuit judge, Oregon Supreme Court justice and U.S. District Court judge.

“He took the view, which I have tried to follow, that you hire people you think are really capable," Haselton says. "Instead of dictating to them how an opinion should come out, you take advantage of their talents.”

At the close of his clerkship in 1980, Haselton says he asked Goodwin — who now lives in California and still hears cases as a senior judge at age 92 — how he might one day become a judge.

“He said that all you can do is put yourself into a position where lightning will strike, and hope that it does. Lots and lots of good people out there apply for these positions,” Haselton says. “What I tell people now who think about becoming judges is that you try to do good things for their own sake, and if it works out, that makes you look more attractive.”

Third time the charm

From 1980 until it split apart in 1990, Haselton worked for the Portland firm of Lindsay, Hart, Neil and Weigler, which grew from 28 to 120 lawyers. (The firm has been reconstituted.)

“In short order, they had me working on appellate stuff,” instead of the trial work he envisioned himself doing.

Not long after Haselton joined the firm, lawyer Carol Hewitt invited him to join her in a case brought by four jail matrons who sought to be paid on a par with sheriff’s deputies. Washington County argued that their jobs were not comparable.

By a 5-4 vote in 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the women and ruled that they had a right to sue for wage discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Washington County settled with the women in 1982 for $3,600 each, and paid the firm $26,000 for costs.

“That is how I got launched into appellate law,” Haselton says.

Yet it took three tries for Haselton to move from appellate practice to the Court of Appeals.

He put his name into the mix in 1991, when Jonathan Newman — a friend — left the court shortly before dying. But Gov. Barbara Roberts named Portland lawyer Robert “Skip” Durham.

Haselton tried again in late 1992, and this time made the round of finalists for two seats open through retirements. Jack Landau and Susan Leeson made it — both went on to the Supreme Court later — but he and Virginia Linder did not. (Linder eventually would join the appeals court in 1997, and was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006.)

Haselton was at the Portland firm of Haglund and Kirtley for only weeks when he got a third chance in early 1994, as Gov. Roberts had advanced Durham to the Supreme Court.

By then, Haselton had led the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners and the board of Legal Aid of Multnomah County, and was active in Jewish community organizations.

“I suppose I was eligible for lightning striking, but it took three strikes before I got hit,” Haselton says when he got the call a few days before he assumed the judgeship in 1994.

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