Justice Martha Lee Walters

Oregon Supreme Court

Oregon Supreme Court Associate Justice Martha Lee Walters "has a unique blend of brilliant intellect and deep, down-to-earth compassion for individuals," according to Governor Ted Kulongoski, who appointed Walters as the 98th justice - and fourth woman - to the Oregon Supreme Court in October 2006. Walters did not get the job with Kulongoski's law firm when she applied as a student at the U of O School of Law in the 1970s. "This time, I got to hire her," Kulongoski said.

Justice Walters grew up in Michigan and graduated with a degree in sociology from the University of Michigan in 1972. Looking for "adventure," she moved to Eugene, where she got a job as a daycare worker. Walters sometimes feels as if her early career was scripted by Gary Trudeau; like the long-standing Doonesbury character Joanie Caucus, Walters headed west, worked in a daycare center and in 1974 entered law school.

After graduating with Order of the Coif from U of O in 1977, Justice Walters went to work for Johnson, Johnson & Harrang. Working as an associate for a law firm in a medium-sized town like Eugene exposed her to a number of areas of the law, including business and franchise work, family law, personal injury, trusts and estates, municipal law and criminal prosecution.

Walters recalls the day the mayor of Drain, Oregon came to her office for advice regarding a detailed contract with the Washington Public Power Supply System that required the city to guarantee payment of bonds for the construction of power plants that were never completed. She joined with attorneys for 88 other public utilities in the Pacific Northwest, which resulted in a ruling by the Washington Supreme Court that the guarantees were void, in what became the largest municipal bond default in US history.

During the early 1980s, Walters found she was handling an increasing number of employment-related cases, although employment law was not considered a distinct legal specialty at the time. In one of her early cases, Walters recalls representing the city of Eugene in a labor grievance. The city had disciplined a male employee for sexually harassing a female employee and the union was questioning whether there was "just cause" to do so. In 1985, Walters joined Les Swanson to form Swanson & Walters, where she developed a focus on employment law. In 2001, Walters and her firm, Walters, Romm and Chanti, together with Bill Wiswall of Wiswall and Walsh, won a lawsuit on behalf of professional golfer Casey Martin, requiring the PGA to accommodate Martin by allowing him to ride in a golf cart while competing in association events. The trial court ruling was upheld by the US Supreme Court.

Prior to taking the bench, Justice Walters' professional activities included serving as a Commissioner for the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws since 1992, where she was a member of the committee that drafted the Uniform Mediation Act. In addition to having served as President of the Lane County Bar Association, Walters has been a member of the OSB Disciplinary Board, the Judicial Conference of the Ninth Circuit, the Lane County Local Professional Responsibility Committee and the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Originally authored by David Meyer and printed in the February 2007 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2007