Presiding Judge Nan Waller

Multnomah County Circuit Court Presiding Court Judge Nan Waller

Although many of you already know the Honorable Nan Waller, formerly chief family court judge, we think you might appreciate a little insight into what is on her mind as she begins her new role as presiding judge.

Judge Waller grew up in Portland and attended the same high school, Lincoln, as her grandmother and children. She left the area to go to school at Smith College, but ended up transferring to and graduating from Stanford University. Next stop, U of O Law School.

She practiced as a legal aid services attorney in Montana right after earning her JD and later practiced at the Metropolitan Public Defender's office. Subsequently, she worked as a referee and was appointed to the Multnomah County Circuit Court in 2001 by Governor Kitzhaber.

What do you like most about being a judge?

After more than 20 years of being on the bench first as a referee and for the last 10 as a judge I can honestly say that there is little that I don't like about being a judge. I have never been bored - I get to hear interesting stories and learn about a wide range of subjects every day. I like helping people resolve their disputes either through trial or settlement conferences. I love watching good lawyers in action laying out their case step by step and I like the intellectual challenge of solving legal problems that come my way. As a judge I have also had the privilege of working on system improvements with a goal of improving the outcomes for people coming before the court.

What will be the biggest challenges moving from chief family judge to presiding?

I will immediately be dealing with the potential of more budget cuts as we prepare for the February legislative session. Given the prior reductions we have had to take, any further cuts will be devastating. We have a bench and staff who are committed to making our court work efficiently and effectively for the people we serve. It is very hard when we do not have the resources and staff to live up to the standards we have set for ourselves. Figuring out ways to continue to do quality work that we expect while keeping up morale will be a challenge. Luckily, I know that I will have lots of support in facing this challenge from the judges, staff and Doug Bray, our Trial Court Administrator. I know that the bar will also continue their support of our court. It has been very gratifying to have so many lawyers asking how they can help and offering suggestions on how to deal with the reductions.

What types of cases will you continue to handle?

At this time I plan to keep my retained cases and to cover some of each of the courts different dockets. Realistically, time will tell how that plays out. It helps me if I'm actually taking cases to have a better understanding of what works and what doesn't. I hope to continue to do settlement conferences.

What are the qualities you admire most about judges?

Beyond being well-grounded in the law and the rules that provide a framework for decision making, what I really admire is the ability of a judge to conduct a proceeding or trial in a manner that will leave every litigant believing that they have had a fair hearing. Judges who are patient, respectful to everyone in the courtroom and allow litigants to put on their case instill confidence in our justice system no matter what the outcome of the case. I admire judges who define their role beyond being on the bench "calling the balls and strikes." I have had great role models of judges who believe that they have a responsibility to use their positions as community leaders to convene and lead system improvements.

What qualities do you admire the most in lawyers who come before you?

There are lawyers who walk into the courtroom and you know you are in for a treat - they are well prepared, professional in their demeanor both in and out of the courtroom and are able to set out their case in a straightforward and understandable fashion. Good lawyers are good educators for the court and for a jury.

What tips do you have for our members?

Take the Code of Professionalism as a guide for how you conduct your practice. The Code of Professionalism is not intended to be just up on the wall in a nice frame. It is a guide for interactions and responsibilities of lawyers in their practices. It is important for lawyers to know the court rules (UTCR, SLR) and follow them. Anticipate the legal or evidentiary issues that are likely to come up and be prepared to address them. If you are going to write a memo, get it into judges ahead of time so they have time to read it. If there are preferences that judges have indicated on their state Web pages, be familiar with them. Take the responsibility to confer seriously as opposed to an obligation that has to be checked off for the purposes of submitting an affidavit. Finally, get involved in bar activities and take advantage of our great legal community.

What types of pro bono work can judges do?

While they cannot practice law, judges participate in a variety of pro bono activities. We have judges who speak to community groups and school groups on our justice system and the rule of law. Judges serve as coaches and judges for Classroom Law Project activities. Judges serve on boards, committees and commissions that are both law and non-related. Judges volunteer during Community Law Week, especially at the "Tell it to the Judge" day. Judges volunteer for community organizations like Meals on Wheels to improve the circumstances of people in our community.

This article appears in the February, 2012 issue of the Multnomah Lawyer

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