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    OR legislature passes bill closing gun sale background checks ‘loophole’

    Posted: May 04, 2015 8:02 PM CDTUpdated: Jun 01, 2015 8:31 PM CDT

     Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland), chief sponsors of SB 941, attended a press conference to discuss the bill’s passage.

    SALEM, OR (KPTV) –The Oregon House of Representatives gave its approval Monday to SB 941, the Oregon Firearms Safety Act.

    The vote narrowly passed the House, 32-28, with 3 House Democrats voting against the bill.

    SB 941 will require Oregonians to undergo a background check when buying a gun from a private, non-licensed seller, even when they’re purchasing the gun online.

    “We know that background checks work,” says Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland), who carried the bill on the floor. “We know that in states already requiring background checks on private gun sales there are fewer women killed by intimate partners, fewer law enforcement officers shot protecting our communities, and lower rates of gun trafficking.”

    House Democrats say in states that have passed similar laws, they’ve seen a 48 percent drop in police officers killed with handguns, 48 percent fewer suicides with handguns and 46 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners.

    On the other side of the aisle, house republicans say SB 941 does not close any loopholes allowing criminals to get guns. Republicans point out SB 941 does nothing to prevent criminals from stealing guns, or buying them off the black market.

    Democrats were undeterred.

    “Support for the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. That’s why federal and state law prohibits felons, domestic abusers, seriously mentally ill people, and certain other dangerous people from buying or possessing guns,” says Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis). “Background checks are the most systematic way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

    House Republicans say at least 12 sheriffs have said the law is “deeply flawed,” and two testified that the law would be hard to enforce.

    In a joint statement, former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and retired Navy combat veteran and NASA astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, Co-Founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, praised the Oregon House for passing SB 941.

    “Today, Oregon’s leaders did the responsible thing: they stood up to the gun lobby and stood up for a commonsense law that will make Oregonians safer. This victory for responsibility in Oregon sends a clear message to the folks in Washington, D.C.: if Congress is not willing to act to reduce gun violence, states around the country can and will take the matter into their own hands,” said Giffords and Kelly.

    With both the House and Senate’s approval, SB 941 heads to Governor Kate Brown for consideration.

    Copyright 2015 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

    Source: http://www.kptv.com/story/28975616/or-dems-pass-bill-closing-gun-sale-background-checks-loophole#ixzz3k2WhxS5n

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    Make it Oregon policy: Release police bodycam videos

    The value of bodycams should be that the public can see how police do their jobs.

    Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would standardize the use of body cameras worn by police officers and strictly limit the public release of the video recordings. Those limits are reasonable for the most part, but when a recording involves the use of force by an officer, the presumption should be to release the video, not restrict it.

    Police use of deadly force against citizens, armed and unarmed, is an issue of growing concern, and lawmakers across the country are grappling with how to respond to those concerns while allowing law enforcement officers to do their jobs and protecting the public at the same time. Many police departments have responded by equipping officers with body cameras that take video recordings of their interactions with suspects and others.

    The Oregon measure, House Bill 2571, does not require police departments to use the cameras, but sets out guidelines if they choose to do so. Among other things, departments using cameras would have to require the camera to be turned on as soon as an officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed and leave it on until the police action was complete, and retain the recordings for at least six months.

    HB 2571 would exempt the recordings from disclosure under public records laws except in two narrow instances: If the recording was part of a court proceeding or if it involved the use of force by an officer and the public interest required its release.

    Elements of court proceedings already are public records, and ought to remain so. The desire to protect the privacy of individuals who interact with police is understandable, and most of the recordings likely would be of little interest to anyone not directly involved.

    But any time an officer uses force, especially when injury or death results, releasing the recording should be presumed to be in the public interest, not subject to the discretion of the department. There is already an exemption for records involving active police investigations, and that would certainly apply when the use of force is being investigated. But once the investigation concludes, the recording should be released.

    We would add a third instance when a recording should be a public record: when a complaint is filed against an officer alleging wrongdoing or misconduct, even if the matter does not become a court case. The public has a legitimate interest in how police officers conduct themselves on the job, and anyone questioning that conduct should be able to request a video recording of it.

    Just as trust in government is strengthened when government records are available to the public, trust in law enforcement will be improved if recordings of police conduct are not hidden from public view.

    — Mail Tribune, Medford, March 25

    ‘Body camera videos are public documents and should be treated as such’

    The challenge associated with so many police custody or use-of-force cases is in belief: plain acceptance that things happened as police say they did. Yet police officers suffer from the credibility gap as much as an at-times incredulous public: Slow reconstructions of controversial events from narrative accounts by witnesses and police can wring faith from a community by showing a murky result, satisfying no one.

    Body cameras do not fix everything. Least of all do they furnish uncontested truth. But their increasing embrace by departments nationally has yielded a new genre of public document: footage of engagement by police with suspects or others, as seen from the point of view of the officers wearing the camera. What is shown, typically, is believable. The body camera in that sense represents a documentary advance that, if managed wisely, can benefit the public and the police.

    Portland embraces the new technology. Mayor Charlie Hales has made clear he wants body cameras to be available to all police officers while on duty by next year. Meanwhile the Legislature considers a bill that would establish ground rules to be followed by all Oregon towns and cities choosing to employ body cameras for their police officers.

    House Bill 2571, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, and others, draws a sensible baseline that allows communities to create their own protocols and policies governing body-camera use. Among other things, the bill requires that body-worn cameras record continuously, from the moment an officer develops a reasonable suspicion that an illegal action is about to occur or has occurred, The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein reported.

    That means no editing, no gaps in the event record. That also means the officer must, amid the many sudden decisions to be made in critical moments, choose to activate the camera in the first place — a leap of faith in some situations, perhaps, and the target of critics who worry about the selective use of the cameras by police. And Williamson’s bill correctly stipulates that all recordings would be the property of the law enforcement agency, not a third party hired to do so, safeguarding the public against contractors who might fail to recognize potential compromises to the personal privacy of innocent citizens. Who, if caught running nude from the shower during a domestic dispute, would want such footage to be released as a public document?

    But that’s where things get sticky. HB2571 would require that videos from police body cameras be exempt from public disclosure except under limited circumstances. While the bill is otherwise smart and should be adopted by the Legislature, its provision to keep the documents out of the public’s review in most instances works against hard-won transparency provisions already in Oregon law and should be struck. The person caught running from the shower already enjoys protections against a damaging release.

    The spirit of HB2571 aligns with actions underway in several other states. Arizona and Florida lawmakers, for example, have said they fear criminals could, using freedom of information laws, indiscriminately acquire police videos for uploading to the Internet only to extort those who are embarrassed and online. But that argument quickly falls apart: Several provisions already in Oregon law can be invoked to limit a document’s release in the interest of protecting personal privacy or an ongoing criminal investigation. And it ignores the fact that detailed incident reports at the police station or videos captured by a police squad car’s dashboard camera are public documents available for the asking.

    Body camera videos are public documents and should be treated as such. To selectively withhold them is to address a problem that does not exist. Lawmakers should refashion the otherwise solid HB2571 to ensure body camera videos are readily available, passing the tests posed by so many exemptions on the books. The new law would then be a real gain in assisting communities in the complex task of having police officers reliably record their engagements with the public while bolstering their accountability as well as the public’s.

    — The Oregonian, Portland, March 26

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    Oregon Lawmakers Propose Alternative To Prison For Offenders Raising Children

    Before he was elected to the Oregon statehouse, Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, spent 29 years as an officer and lieutenant with the Oregon State Police.

    During those years, particularly during his time in Klamath Falls and Cottage Grove, he says, Olson saw children affected when their parents were arrested for criminal offenses.

    “You wished we could have had a track in place to have helped and kept families together. There’s consequences with committing crimes, but you have to ask yourself is there some means we can break the cycle?” he says.

    Olson is now the Republican co-sponsor of a House bill that creates a separate track for offenders who are parents with custody of their children.

    Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, is the driving force behind the measure known as HB 3503.

    The bill gives judges the discretion to sentence eligible parents facing prison sentences of a year or more to 24 months of probation instead. It also gives the Department of Corrections the ability to reduce sentences by six months for some parents who are already serving time.

    “It’s focused on children, and keeping the family together,” Williamson says. “I know that is a bipartisan issue.”

    The representatives say the bill builds on work they did last session shortening some prison sentences slightly in an effort to slow the growth of Oregon’s prison population. Williamson and Olson say their new proposal could improve outcomes for families and save the state more money by reducing the amount of women in prison and avoiding the costs associated with placing the children of inmates in foster care.

    To be eligible, offenders would have to show that they had physical custody of their child at the time of their offense, and had never been convicted of a violent crime or sex crime.

    Courts could impose conditions including electronic surveillance, drug and alcohol treatment, and parenting classes.

    The bill is modeled on a program in Washington state, called the Parenting Sentencing Alternative, that gives judges and the Department of Corrections the ability to waive or shorten sentences for some non-violent offenders. They are allowed to return home to parent, supervised by the Department of Corrections and state social workers.  In Washington, 237 parents have successfully finished the program.

    Williamson and Olson say the bill they’ve introduced is a placeholder; they will flesh out their proposal in an April 15 work session.

    The representatives are meeting with county officials to identify what kind of social work and wraparound services the state would need to provide to make the sentencing alternative work. They want to test the family sentencing alternative as a pilot program in three counties first, and Multnomah and Marion counties have expressed interest.

    About 200 women in state prison are from Multnomah County, and roughly half of them are parents who could be eligible for the program, according to testimony the county submitted in support of the draft bill.

    Susie Leavell manages the Parenting Sentencing Alternative program in Washington. Level says she has heard particularly powerful feedback on the program from the teachers of children whose parents are given an alternative sentence.

    “When mom returns home, they see an improvement around hygiene, being on time to school, their homework is being turned in and they are meeting their grade level expectations,” Leavell says.

    Leavell also says the program is saving Washington money, though she can’t say exactly how much. According to Leavell, it costs roughly $31 a day to supervise an offender in the community in Washington, compared to $91 a day for incarcerated inmates.

    The program has helped prevent sending 44 children to foster care in Washington, and 8 children have come out of foster care and returned to their parents.

    “Some of those kinds of savings are harder to measure than your black and white savings in terms of daily costs,” Leavell says.

    About two out of three offenders who have participated in the program have successfully completed it. Leavell says of the 237 who completed the program, 22 have been re-arrested and 16, or 7 percent, have returned to prison on a new felony.

    The general return to prison rate, or recidivism rate, in Washington is 29 percent.

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    Our View: A small contribution to fairness

    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

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    Class-action suits: Oregon House votes to redirect unclaimed awards to legal aid

    SALEM — The House approved changes Monday in the way Oregon handles class-action lawsuits.

    In the session’s first major vote, lawmakers passed House Bill 2700, which would send unclaimed damage awards to the state’s legal aid services instead of back to the company that was sued.

    The bill passed in a near party-line vote, with Republican Reps. Julie Parrish of West Linn and Vic Gilliam of Silverton joining Democrats in voting yes.

    Democrats say the change would hold losing companies in class-action lawsuits accountable and ensure that victims are justly compensated.

    “I’m outraged that defendants who hurt Oregonians must keep that money,” Jennifer Williamson, a Portland Democrat and a chief sponsor of the bill, said in her floor speech.

    Republicans, however, disagree with a provision that would alter the way courts identify claim holders and how the law would apply to lawsuits already under way.

    “We should not replace a system that has served us well for decades with an untested new system unlike other states’,” said House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte.

    The proposed reforms were the subject of contentious debate in the 2014 legislative session. A similar bill passed the House but was derailed in the Senate when Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, sided with Republicans against the bill.

    That probably won’t be an issue this time, with Democrats having gained two more Senate seats in last November’s election. Class-action reform is one of a few big-ticket items — automatic voter registration and extending the clean-fuel standard are also on the list — that should sail into calmer waters this session.

    “When we heard this bill in the judiciary committee, it was Groundhog Day,” Williamson said. “By the end of today, I have a feeling it will feel like Groundhog Day again.”

    — Ian K. Kullgren


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

    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,


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    Oregon law falls short on grand jury records

    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.

    We’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

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    Jennifer Williamson: 15 to Watch in 2015

    Monday, December 29, 2014

    Democratic Oregon Representative Jennifer Williamson will start her second term in Salem in 2015, and it should be an interesting one.

    A lawyer, Williamson represents Downtown, Northwest and Southwest Portland. First elected in 2012, she won with 82.5 percent of her district’s vote.

    Since then, Williamson has been an active member of the Oregon House of Representatives. She has been appointed a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the Joint Ways and Means Committee, as well as Co-Chair of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety.

    For the 2013-2014 biennium she was a part of the Budgets and Revenue Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Williamson was also a co-sponsor of House Bill 4143, which crafted a plan to send uncollected proceeds from class action lawsuits to Legal Aid of Oregon for legal representation of low-income Oregonians.

    Although the bill failed to pass the in the Senate, it was one of the most talked about and controversial legislative measures in 2014.

    In December, Williamson worked with other legislators to help a prison rehabilitation program transition towards closure, when the Oregon Department of Corrections announced they would be ending the Family Preservation Project. The program helped female inmates connected with their children while incarcerated and prepared them for returning to their family.

    Williamson re-election for another term this November, after raking in 85 percent of the vote, shows her district was pleased with her work last year and believes she has a bright future ahead of her.

    With important issues coming to the table in the 2015 legislative session, Williamson’s second term will be one to watch.

    Source: GoLocal PDX

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

    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