What interested you about going into your particular area of law?
When I started in law, I didn’t just choose a particular area of law right off the bat, it was an evolution. I grew up in a Union family and I went to work for a firm that represented the longshoremen in Portland. The cases that I did evolved over the years. I started out doing everything. I was doing criminal cases and plain old traffic accident cases. We had jury trials and workers comp cases in those days in Oregon, and I did a ton of workers comp trials. Then I started doing malpractice cases—when they were not the thing to do—and it just kind of evolved. It wasn’t just that I was going to specialize in medical cases right off the bat, all of these other things led into it. It all boils down to the desire to be helpful to other people. I was in the police department when I was going to night law school; I had an opportunity to help people and thought I could help more people by being a lawyer. My view at the time was that the big corporations had legions of lawyers representing them and I didn’t want to be a corporate lawyer. I wanted to represent people because I thought they needed help, and the corporations had armies of lawyers taking care of them.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of practicing in your area of law?
The most rewarding aspect of practicing personal injury law is assisting people deal with bad situations and helping them make the best of it. I am proud of the cases I’ve worked that have involved helping people get some kind of financial help for the situation they have been put in, due to someone else’s neglect.
What has been the key to your success?
I don’t know how to answer that; I guess the key to my success is good luck, timing, and good genes.
What is one example of a case/matter you are particularly proud of?
One of my proudest moments was serving on the Teddy Jordan case. Theodore Jordan was convicted of murdering a railroad worker in 1932, in Klamath Falls. The Ku Klux Klan was big at the time and not only was Teddy African-American, but he was Catholic.
He was tortured beyond human belief to get a confession. Railroad detectives questioned him while applying electricity to his body and inflicted unheard-of torture. Teddy got a court appointed lawyer, had a two-day trial, and was convicted. Some political groups raised a fuss about it, but the Supreme Court validated the conviction and the Governor commuted his sentence to life in prison.
I met Teddy in the late 1950s, early 1960s after he had served 26 years for a murder he did not commit. At the time, he was accused of stealing a tube of toothpaste from Safeway. I defended him, and we sued in Federal Court for wrongful arrest and won. I represented him again on another case. I couldn’t believe how he was treated on the stand. He was cross-examined like I’ve never seen before. In my view, they were literally trying to kill him on the stand. It was a weeklong trial on the admissibility of the confession. We recessed for Easter weekend and word got out that things did not look good. It turned out the court reporter played golf with the judge. I was ready to give that town a trial they would never forget. When we came back on Monday, the judge threw out the confession and dismissed the case. By that time, Teddy had been in prison for a little over three decades. It is people like Teddy that make me proud to be a trial attorney.
How has the legal industry in your field changed in the last 30 years?
The information technology boom has made a tremendous difference. I can Google something in a couple of minutes here in the office. I used to have to drive up to the medical school library and go through the periodicals and literature. Now in three minutes, I can have a pretty good grasp of almost any medical situation. The information technology has made life a ton easier.
What does being included in Best Lawyers for 30 years mean to you?
It reflects other people’s opinions of you. You may think you are doing good work, but it is good to have that validated by your peers.
What is one piece of advice you would give to new attorneys?
One piece of advice that I would give to new attorneys is to be true to yourself. Every case that I have ever lost has been a case that my head said could be won, but my gut didn’t like. It is important to trust your gut, which sounds simplistic, but I think it’s true. If you can’t find something in your case to believe in then you better let someone else handle that case.
What is the biggest obstacle you see for your practice area in the next 30 years?
The biggest obstacle I see for personal injury cases is the continued pressure from elements in the insurance industry to restrict consumers’ rights to get to the courthouse. In medical cases specifically, there are still a handful of policy makers that think the medical profession should be above lawsuits and that they should be a special protected class.