Justice Paul J. De MunizChief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
When Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz enrolled in law school over 30 years ago, he had no specific plans for practicing law and was not sure how he would use a law degree. Even today, he admits he is "surprised" he became a lawyer.
De Muniz grew up in Portland, graduating from Madison High School in 1965. He enlisted in the Air Force after graduation with the goal of using the benefits of the GI Bill to attend college. De Muniz was raised without a father, and no one from his family had ever attended college. He saw the Air Force and college as a way to create a better life for himself.
De Muniz spent three and a half years in the Air Force, including a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. After he was discharged from the Air Force in December 1969, De Muniz wasted no time in taking the next step toward his goal of a college education. He enrolled at Portland State University in January 1970. He took a heavy load of classes and graduated with a bachelor's degree in just two and a half years in June 1972. Although De Muniz did not have a definite idea of what he might want to do with a law degree, he took advantage of remaining GI Bill benefits and enrolled in Willamette University School of Law in the fall of 1972.
After graduating from Willamette in May 1975, De Muniz began his legal career with the state public defender's office in Salem. It was there that he handled his first appeals in both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
De Muniz left the public defender's office after two years for private practice in Salem, where he focused on trial and appellate litigation in both state and federal courts. However, he still took the time to handle at least one death penalty case each year.
Before he joined the bench, De Muniz was perhaps best known for his efforts on behalf of Santiago Ventura Morales, a migrant farm worker wrongfully convicted of murder in a trial tainted with evidentiary and translator errors. Recognizing an injustice, De Muniz took the case pro bono and traveled to California and Mexico to obtain evidence of Morales' innocence. These efforts were instrumental in ultimately overturning the conviction and securing Morales' release from prison. Morales went on to graduate from the University of Portland.
De Muniz was happy and successful in private practice and assumed he would remain there for the rest of his legal career. However, in May 1990, Governor Neil Goldschmidt surprised him with an offer to appoint him to an empty seat on the Court of Appeals. De Muniz accepted the Governor's offer and thoroughly enjoyed his 10 years on the court.
In 2000, De Muniz decided to run for an open, contested seat on the Supreme Court. In making that decision, he knew he needed to define and articulate his judicial philosophy as he campaigned and spoke with voters in all 36 counties. By this time, he had been a lawyer for nearly 25 years and had written 850 appellate court opinions, but the election required him to focus on his view of the role of the courts in our democratic society. As he explained in numerous speeches to small groups of voters, De Muniz has a profound respect for the separate role of each branch of the government and believes in taking a restrained approach in exercising the power of the judiciary. Above all, he believes in judicial impartiality.
De Muniz often speaks about the importance of an impartial judiciary. He has also written three law reviews on the topic, one of which was quoted favorably by Justice Paul Stevens in his dissenting opinion, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 US 765 (2002).
De Muniz also finds time to devote to his role as chairman of the Sakhalin/Oregon Rule of Law Partnership, where works with lawyers, judges and prosecutors in Russia, implementing an advanced system now mandated by a new Russian constitution. In this position, De Muniz has traveled to Russia to speak and teach. In May 2003, the partnership founded the Sakhalin Justice College, dedicated to training Russian judges and lawyers in trial advocacy. Oregon judges and lawyers have devoted a great deal of time to the trial advocacy project which now is a training model throughout Russia. In May 2004, the Willamette Journal of International Law and Dispute Resolution published De Muniz's article on the new Russian criminal procedure code, the first English language article to analyze the new Russian code. That article was later translated into Russian.
He was unanimously elected Chief Justice by his colleagues and assumed that position on January 1, 2006. In 2007, Chief Justice De Muniz successfully led the Judicial Branch's legislative efforts, securing a 19.4% increase in judicial compensation, the enactment of a Public Officials Compensation Commission, additional funds for the Judicial Branch eCourt initiative, and the funding for a statewide study of Oregon's deteriorating courthouses.
In February, De Muniz was the first recipient of the Oregon Hispanic Bar Association Professionalism Award, named in his honor.
Justice De Muniz is an impressive man who has risen from humble beginnings to serve this state with distinction.