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Sign the Petition to Raise the Minimum Wage

June 16, 2015 in Featured, Uncategorized

Our View: A small contribution to fairness

February 23, 2015 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, Newsletter

Posted Feb. 10, 2015 at 12:01 AM

A bill that would bring Oregon into line with nearly every other state in helping to pay for legal services for low-income residents passed the House on Monday. The Oregon Senate should follow suit, and the governor should sign the legislation.
When a class action lawsuit involving many plaintiffs is settled, or a verdict is reached holding the defendant liable for damages, the court contacts members of the affected class and distributes the money paid in damages by the corporate defendant. Inevitably, some members of the affected class either cannot be found or choose not to participate.
States have enacted various ways to deal with this leftover money. Because the corporate defendant has agreed to pay damages or has been found liable and ordered to do so, returning the undistributed money to the defendant essentially reduces the penalty. Many state laws provide that at least a portion of this money go to help provide legal services to low-income residents who can’t afford to hire their own attorney.
The distribution of money in this way follows a legal doctrine known as “cy prés,” sort for the Norman French phrase “cy prés comme possible,” or “as near as possible.” The idea is that money in a will or trust, or money ordered paid to settle a claim, should be used for a purpose close to the original intent if that original intent cannot be satisfied. Support for legal services is considered a close approximation to class-action damages because consumer protection cases make up a portion of legal services cases.
In Oregon, class-action payments that cannot be distributed are returned to the corporate defendant.
House Bill 2700 would change that. Half of any unspent damages would go to legal services offices around the state, and the other half to charity at the discretion of the judge.
HB 2700 would not solve the funding problems plaguing legal aid in the state. The amount of money is relatively small, and Oregon does not see a large number of class action lawsuits. But the principle is sound: Our system of justice means little if those without resources are denied access to the courts. This bill is one small way to contribute to fairness, and should be enacted.

Source: Mail Tribune

Watch Jennifer’s floor speech on why HB 2700 matters

February 19, 2015 in Featured, Newsletter, What's Happening

Jennifer on the Floor speaking about HB 2700

February 19, 2015 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, Newsletter, What's Happening

Steve Duin: A golden opportunity to repair class-action law and rescue Legal Aid

February 3, 2015 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, Newsletter, What's Happening

When Kris LaMar worked for Legal Aid’s Family Law Center in 1973, she remembers the painful Monday morning ritual:

“We had to turn the intake phones off by 10 a.m,” says LaMar, who retired in January from the Multnomah County Circuit bench.  “It was a spigot.  And we had to turn it off.”

And what would that mean, for the rest of that grueling week, for the victims of domestic violence, tenants unfairly evicted from their apartments, or the dirt-poor women clawing their way through a bitter child-custody dispute?

“They just had to fend for themselves,” LaMar says.

“That’s our state.  We have never committed as a society to provide legal services to the poor for anything other than criminal cases, which the state and federal constitutions require.”

Never.  Forty years later, Legal Aid receives less than $6 million from the state’s General Fund, and serves only 15 percent of the Oregonians who need its counsel for landlord-tenant disputes, fraud cases and family-law beefs.

So, you can not possibly imagine the relief and celebration in legal circles when two legislators — Reps. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, and Tobias Read, D-Beaverton — finally came up with a creative solution to this perennial funding problem.

Seriously.  You can’t. Unless, of course, you have followed the disheartening arc of Dave Frohnmayer’s legal career.

Williamson and Read took note of the fact that Oregon is one of only two states in the country that returns the unclaimed proceeds in class-action cases to the very parties that ripped everyone off.

Let’s say a jury determines that BP West Coast Products recklessly violated the Unlawful Trade Practices Act at its gas stations — as a Multnomah County jury did in January – and awards a class of 2.9 million consumers $200 each.

If many claimants are impossible to locate because BP destroyed the debit-card receipts, BP (formerly British Petroleum) is allowed to keep the unclaimed portion of the $580-million award.

David Sugerman, class counsel in the case, estimates that unclaimed monies will easily exceed $100 million.

Read and Williamson have, in House Bill 4143, a better idea: allocate those unclaimed class-action awards to the endowment fund for legal-aid services.

“This is a game-changer for Legal Aid,” says Bob Stoll, a retired Portland attorney and one who has neither clients nor financial interest in the legislation.

Not only will Legal Aid be able to reopen and support many of its rural offices, Stoll notes, but companies like British Petroleum and Philip Morris would no longer “keep most of the damages a jury determined belonged to others.”

LaMar — who ended her career providing “shotgun justice” for the folks who couldn’t afford a lawyer – framed the issue rather well:

“Why would anyone possibly be opposed to that?”

Why, because Frohnmayer and Bill Gary are (a) stalwart defenders of the Oregon Constitution, or (b) the very lawyers who are being paid so handsomely by cigarette manufacturers and oil conglomerates.

Tough call.

The Eugene attorneys represent Philip Morris in an ongoing class-action suit, and have been hired by BP to curtail its damages.  They have also lobbied passionately against this godsend for Legal Aid.

In a letter to Oregon legislators, Frohnmayer and Gary called the bill “unconstitutional, unfair and fundamentally unworkable.”

And speaking by phone Friday afternoon, Frohnmayer said, “This bill has been seriously misrepresented by people who should know better.  The problem with this bill is that Legal Aid is a stalking horse for serious and controversial changes in class-action rules.  The additional problem — and I can’t believe no one is talking about this — is that the law was made retroactive, to existing cases.”

Yet it is the Frohnmayer/Gary lobbying effort — rather than what Frohnmayer calls “this hand-grenade of a bill” — that has been met with disappointment and derision by many in the Oregon legal community.

LaMar said she was especially disappointed because Frohnmayer, as Oregon’s attorney general from 1981-1991, “was charged with prosecuting many of the violations of law that class-action plaintiff attorneys pursue.  Many of these class-action lawsuits develop because attorneys general can’t take on that kind of case-load.

“I respect Dave Frohnmayer,” LaMar said, then added, “Why has Dave changed so much?  That’s kind of painful.”

“The act of advocacy alters one’s opinions,” Portland attorney Greg Kafoury observes.  “When you have spent your career defending what large corporations do, much of it marginally criminal or against the public interest, you develop a point of view, and one diametrically opposed to the view that sent you to law school.”

Stoll is even more blunt:  “I think Frohnmayer is making a bogus argument.  He sold out to Big Tobacco, and now to Big Oil.” Referring to three prominent supporters of the bill, AGs past and present, Stoll added, “You can hardly say that Hardy Myers, Ted Kulongoski and Ellen Rosenblum are radical legal scholars.  They are very balanced in their approach.”

“Bob Stoll is not a disinterested party,” Frohnmayer fired back.  “He’s a plaintiff’s lawyer who brings class-action suits.  And this one is a bum rap.

“This is a compelling set of constitutional considerations, and I’m getting blown off as the captive of special interests.  There’s not a word that I said (Thursday) that I would not have said as a state representative, while setting up the Council on Court Procedures; as the attorney general, while prosecuting or defending class-action suits; and as a law professor, looking at constitutional adequacy affecting individual rights.”

At the moment — the Williamson/Reed bill has already passed the House — the opinions that matter most are in the Oregon Senate.

Those legislators have a choice to make, and one they’ve had a great deal more time to consider than the Nike tax break rushed through in 2012′s one-day special session.

They can ask themselves if justice is better served, and funding for Legal Aid finally secured, by adding Oregon to the list of states that insist defendants in class-action suits pay fully for the havoc they unleash.

Or, once again, they can tell the most impoverished Oregonians to fend for themselves.

– Steve Duin

Source:Oregon Live

Bill would grant immunity to people who seek help in drug overdose

January 24, 2015 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

Law might have protected woman who called for help in Sunriver marijuana gummies case

By Taylor W. Anderson / The Bulletin / @taylorwanderson

A proposed law that would grant immunity to people who seek medical help for someone having an adverse reaction to drugs likely would have applied in the case of a Seattle woman who was cited for marijuana possession in Sunriver after her friend had a bad reaction to marijuana gummies this week.

A 51-year-old woman gave her 37-year-old friend berry-shaped candies that were infused with marijuana. The woman knowingly ate the candies, then had an adverse reaction after eating three. Both women were from Washington, where pot is legal for recreational consumption.

The older woman called 911 early Monday from Sunriver Resort and was subsequently charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. A bill filed in the Oregon Legislature by Portland Rep. Jennifer Williamson likely would have protected the woman from charges.

“We want to take all the barriers away from somebody seeking medical help who is in trouble and actively overdosing,” she said.

The immunity law would apply in cases in which the person who called for help possessed illegal drugs, whether pot or a highly addictive opiate. The immunity would apply in cases where the person who called was on parole or probation.

similar law protecting underage drinkers who seek help took effect in Oregon on Jan. 1.

“This is, I think, the natural outgrowth of that. Especially (when) marijuana becomes legal, because we’ll have underagers using marijuana as well,” Williamson said.

Sunriver Police Chief Marc Mills told The Bulletin his department used discretion when deciding to cite the 51-year-old woman.

Police could have cited the younger woman with possession as well but decided not to, Mills said.

He said he supports Williamson’s idea, but, “The law is currently the law. Nobody is telling us to ignore it. As long as the law is in place, we will enforce it.”

Mills said he wasn’t seeking the attention the case has gathered, but he does welcome the conversations that are occurring before possession of an ounce in public and a half-pound at home becomes legal July 1 in Oregon.

Oregon’s rural and urban communities are split on how to approach marijuana until then. The Bulletin found four district attorneys would drop all pending and future marijuana-related cases. Eleven said they’d continue to enforce. Many said prosecuting pot wasn’t a top priority.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he’d address it on a case-by-case basis, joining seven other district attorneys. This case will likely come across Hummel’s desk next week, he said.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, pointed to the incident when she promised a cautious approach to marijuana-infused edibles, which will become legal under the law passed in November.

Burdick will co-chair the Joint Committee on Ballot Measure 91 Implementation when lawmakers convene Feb. 2. She said Thursday she wasn’t willing to allow edibles to become legal until lawmakers tinker with packaging and labeling requirements in the law to avoid incidents similar to the one in Sunriver and to keep them out of kids’ mouths.

“On the other side of the equation, there are people who rely on medical marijuana who can’t smoke or don’t want to smoke who need some form of edible form,” Burdick said.

Burdick said she hadn’t read Williamson’s bill but said the concept sounded like one she would support.

As committee co-chair, Burdick will be one of the most influential lawmakers this session regarding the new marijuana law.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,


Oregon law falls short on grand jury records

January 15, 2015 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

By Jeff Kruse  and Jennifer Williamson

For The Register-Guard

Americans may have heard more about grand juries in the last 30 days than in the last 30 years.

In the wake of the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions, we’ve been reminded by the media that grand jury proceedings are secret — unless a judge orders that a transcript of the testimony be made public.

 Oregon law falls short on grand jury recordsWe’ve heard over and over that during grand jury proceedings only prosecutors — not the judge or the accused — are present in the room, introduce the evidence, and select and examine witnesses.

We’ve been told that grand juries determine whether criminal charges, often subject to mandatory minimum sentences, should be brought against an accused person.

But here’s something that many Ore­gonians may not know: We are one of only three states in the nation that still rely on handwritten notes created by a grand juror instead of a verbatim recording of the grand jury proceedings.

Transparency in government is the Oregon way. We record and stream online every committee hearing of the Ore­gon Legislature. Every word uttered on the floor of the Oregon House and Senate is recorded for any citizen to review. Similarly, our courtrooms have recording devices, cameras and/or stenographers to document everything that happens in each and every trial. Our criminal statutes require mutual pretrial exchange of discovery between the accused and the state of each parties’ evidence and witnesses.

We should be proud of all that. But when it comes to accuracy and transparency in grand jury proceedings, Oregon is failing.

We still rely on nonverbatim handwritten “minutes” of grand jury sworn testimony taken by one of the jurors. These notes can be inaccurate, incomplete, hard to read or just plain wrong. Then if a witness’s testimony before the grand jury is called into question, a former grand juror must be hauled back into court to read the notes, often resulting in a delay in the proceedings and an inexact account of what actually was said under oath.

We’ve all been reminded in the last few weeks that grand juries have a lot of power.

The lack of accurate record-keeping and verbatim recordings of grand juries means that we risk distrust in our criminal justice system and further erosion of public confidence in the grand jury system right here in Oregon.

Without an ability for the parties — and, when appropriate, the public — to see an accurate record of grand jury proceedings, high-profile controversial cases can become more highly charged.

The Legislature has a responsibility to solve this problem. That’s why we are introducing a bill in this year’s legislative session to update Oregon’s criminal statutes to align with the federal system and most other states by mandating a verbatim record of all grand jury proceedings.

This simple but important change will allow us to protect citizens’ rights and increase trust in our criminal justice system. Mandating verbatim recordings of grand juries is the national norm for a reason: It guards against abuse and ensures that the rights of the accused and crime victims are fully protected. Liberals and conservatives can agree that we all lose when we allow government to exercise its power in secrecy, with no transparency, oversight or accountability.

The confidentiality of grand juries will always be protected, and Oregon will still require a judicial order to release verbatim recordings under special circumstances. But secrecy is not — and never should be — a cloak for abuse of power. The secrecy of grand juries exists to protect defendants, witnesses, victims and the accused, whose innocence must be presumed until guilt is established. Secrecy is not an excuse for inaccuracy or incomplete records. Secrecy does not exist to provide a shield from accountability.

Inaccuracy in recording the sworn testimony of grand jury witnesses leads to distrust in our criminal justice proceedings, fosters an environment for abuse, and could lead to unjust prosecutions or failure to bring guilty offenders to justice. Oregonians deserve better than that. That’s why we need to update our law.

Source: The Register Guard

Join Jennifer Williamson at Ruby Vineyard

July 1, 2014 in Featured, What's Happening

JW Vineyard Invite Join Jennifer Williamson at Ruby VineyardWine tasting

6pm – 8pm

$50 suggested minimum donation

We also invite you to join us for a VIP tasting of Ruby Vineyard’s premier wines 

5pm – 6pm

$200 suggested minimum donation

(also includes general tasting)

Please RSVP below if we will see you there!

**Once your RSVP is complete, suggested minimum donations can be made HERE.

Questions? Contact madeleine@jenniferfororegon.com.

2013 Legislative Report

September 20, 2013 in Featured, What's Happening

Jennifer Williamson is working hard to keep her promises to the people of House District 36. This Report covers the highlights of what she achieved in the 2013 legislative session.

Screen shot 2013 09 20 at 9.45.21 AM1 231x300 2013 Legislative Report

Pendleton Lawmakers Try To Keep Blue Mountain Hospital Open

September 19, 2013 in Featured, Jennifer in the news

 by Christopher David Gray

Sept. 18, 2013 — The Oregon Health Authority has laid out the timetable to legislators for the closure of the Blue Mountain Recovery Center, even as Pendleton lawmakers strive to keep Eastern Oregon’s mental hospital open.

“The train’s already left the station,” Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, told The Lund Report. “We got to find the sidetrack somehow.”

Blue Mountain is set to stop taking patients next month and close for good Dec. 31. The hospital has a long track record, opening in 1948.

Pamela Martin, the director of the Addictions and Mental Health Division, said half of Blue Mountain’s 60 patients will be ready for discharge, but any civilly committed patients who need further treatment will be transferred to two mothballed 26-bed wings in the new Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

Those hospital wings are scheduled to open in November, with patients transferred over the following month. They were built the same time as the new hospital but have sat empty for lack of funding in the previous budget.

After Blue Mountain stops taking patients, new civilly committed patients will be sent to either Salem or the Oregon State Hospital in Portland, but there is already a waiting list to get into state psychiatric hospitals. The Legislature has budgeted money for a new hospital in Junction City, near Eugene, but it won’t open until 2015 at the earliest.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the full Joint Committee on Ways & Means, lawmakers accepted Martin’s report, but talk stirred of potentially keeping the hospital open and staffed until next spring so it could be turned into a geriatric hospital for the Department of Corrections.

The prison hospital idea was pitched by Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who said it would be wise to keep the facility in place with its skilled workforce because the Department of Corrections needs to increase hospital capacity with an aging population, driven by mandatory prison sentences.

Her idea was immediately grasped by Jenson and his Pendleton Senate counterpart, Sen. Bill Hansell, as well as Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem:

“It’s a piece of the puzzle that needs to be worked on to come to fruition,” Winters said.

If the hospital closes, Jenson and Hansell are concerned that the professional staff, particularly the nurses, would be cut to the wind and leave Eastern Oregon. Recruiting newcomers to move to Pendleton could be difficult with the state suffering a nursing shortage. Jenson reminded his colleagues that even the Oregon State Hospital in Salem has had trouble filling all its positions with qualified applicants. “If we lose the workforce, we’re going to have to restart,” said Hansell, who also learned that most workers would prefer to remain in Pendleton, according to the Service Employees International Union.

In place of Blue Mountain Hospital, three new residential mental health facilities, each with five beds, are being built in Pendleton. One will serve as an acute crisis unit while the other two will act as transitional residential treatment homes, one for adolescents and the other for adults.

“Every effort will be made to place people from Eastern Oregon in those two facilities,” Martin told legislators.

Some Blue Mountain employees will find work in the new units, but with only 15 beds and less intensive care, the new residential treatment units will only employ a fraction of the people if the hospital closes. Others could find work in Salem. And some of the staff has already left voluntarily, requiring the state to hire temporary employees.

“One of the major barriers is the physical quality of the [Pendleton] hospital,” said Martin, who toured the 65-year-old facility after assuming her leadership position in May. “It’s outlived its natural life span.”

Martin said that it costs about $1 million a month to operate Blue Mountain, but the two new mothballed units in Salem will cost only $700,000 a month to run, she added, comparing them to empty floors of a hotel.

If Blue Mountain Hospital were renovated, it would cost an estimated $11 million, and it’s uncertain if the hospital has significant asbestos insulation or lead pipes, which would increase costs exponentially.

Jenson rebuffed the asbestos concern, noting that most of the facilities have undergone substantial renovations in the past 25 years. “If there’s a lot of asbestos in the building for these patients, maybe we have a good class-action lawsuit waiting for us,” Jenson quipped. Before it was razed, the state had been fined by the federal government previously for asbestos in the old Salem state mental hospital.

Martin expects to report back to legislators with detailed information about the impacts of the closure on Pendleton, as well as the potential for its reuse as a prison hospital. But that could be too late to delay closure of Blue Mountain Hospital. Lawmakers may not be back in Salem until nearly Thanksgiving, just weeks before the last patients are moved across the Cascades.

Source: The Lund Report