Judge Karin Immergut

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Karin Immergut

A lifetime of seeking to make the greatest positive impact on her community has led Judge Karin Immergut to her new position as a Multnomah County judge. Immergut startled more than a few people when she declared her interest in serving as a county judge, from her position as the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon. But her appointment to the bench actually marks one more step in Judge Immergut's path of public service, which began after college.

The first in her family to attend law school, Judge Immergut was born to a Swedish mathematician (her mother) and an Austrian chemist (her father). She grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and then went to Amherst College, where she double-majored in psychology and Spanish literature.

After college, she spent two years in the New York City Urban Fellows Program, working on justice and juvenile justice policy issues. That work played into her ongoing interest in criminal justice, rehabilitation, and recidivism - and she realized that she would need a law degree to do the work that she would find most fulfilling.

Immergut chose Boalt Hall School of Law for its public-interest focus. She graduated in 1987 and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as an associate at Covington & Burling, a firm known for its policy work and its dedication to pro bono efforts.

About a year into her job at Covington & Burling, Immergut took a trip to Los Angeles to visit friends. She found time during her trip for informational interviews with the US Attorney's Office in L.A. - and the following week, she was offered a position as an assistant United States attorney in that office. As much as Immergut had enjoyed her work as a commercial litigator, she was drawn to criminal justice and saw prosecution - when handled "wisely, thoughtfully, and ethically" - as a chance to affect people's lives for the better.

So Immergut accepted the job and spent the next six years in Los Angeles as an assistant US attorney, initially handling smaller cases and then working her way up to Deputy Chief of the Narcotics and Money-Laundering Section within three years. After five years, she was the chief of the training unit, charged with overseeing the new assistant US attorneys, while still trying major narcotics cases in court.

But after six years in Los Angeles, Immergut was ready for a change of pace and a greater balance of life and work. During a visit to Vermont in 1994, she met with two former federal prosecutors who were working at Gravel & Shea, a firm in Burlington - and when she returned to Los Angeles, the Gravel & Shea firm offered her a job. She spent almost two years with that firm in Vermont, trying a wide range of civil cases, from contract breaches to medical malpractice to adverse possession disputes.

In 1996, Immergut moved back across the country, to Portland - and here, her peregrinations have come to an end. She joined the Multnomah County District Attorney's office, where she knew she could try a lot of cases, while getting to know a lot of lawyers in her new city.

As a deputy district attorney, Immergut started in the felony drug unit, where she gained experience in trying cases quickly and efficiently, sometimes only having received the file the night before. The fast pace of the job required her to step before a jury without having extensively prepared for every case, and later permitted her to try major felonies and white-collar criminal cases that she had developed from the start.

She moved across the street in 2001, joining the US Attorney's office in Portland as an assistant US attorney in the District of Oregon, where she had the chance to dig deeply into every case, and where she could expand her practice to include more writing and appellate work. She served for two years under now-Judge Michael W. Mosman, before she was sworn in as the US Attorney for the District of Oregon on October 8, 2003.

As the US Attorney for Oregon, Immergut led the office through her belief in the power of wise, thoughtful and ethical decisions and actions by its prosecutors. Immergut wanted the US Attorney's office to take an active and visible role in solving problems, and so she reached out to the public, who often did not understand who the federal prosecutors were or what they do, while building ties to the law enforcement community and legal community.

Under Immergut, the US Attorney's Office for Oregon was the first in the nation to actively participate in the Federal Re-Entry Court. Through that program, the prosecutors, the defense counsel, the court, and the treatment providers work together as a team to help drug addicts make the transition from prison to a life in the community.

The office also expanded its focus on environmental crimes, methamphetamine abuse, and financial fraud crimes in its jurisdiction, under Immergut's lead. But she is perhaps proudest of the intelligent and capable women and men that she hired to work in the office. "The legacy you leave is the people you hired," she said.

Judge Immergut stepped down from her position this summer, and joined the bench in September, where she can continue to serve her longtime goal of making a positive impact on the world around her, but in a new way. She is committed to treating all who enter her court with dignity and respect, no matter who they are - just as she did as a lawyer, and just as she expects the lawyers in her court to do.

Lawyers can expect Judge Immergut to give their cases her prompt and full attention, to work hard, and to be fully prepared for every matter before her - and she expects the same from the lawyers who appear before her. She will work hard on the pleadings and evidence submitted for her review, and she expects that the attorneys will work hard to review and perfect their pleadings and evidence before her - and to try hard to resolve their disputes before taking them up with the court.

Judge Immergut is excited about the new challenges before her. "I've liked every job I've ever had," she said - and, so far, she likes this one too.

Originally authored by Sheila Potter and printed in the November 2009 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2012