Judge Rick Haselton

Oregon Court of Appeals

"I feel incredibly fortunate. I have a terrific home life [and] I'm doing the work I want to be doing. How many people get to say that?" Judge Rick Haselton smiles with almost a sense of wonder. The comment, and his reaction to it, captures the spirit of a man who could have a deservedly large ego, but has chosen not to.

A native Oregonian, Rick Haselton and his older sister were raised by their mother in Albany after his parents divorced. His mother was a high school English teacher and Judge Haselton remembers that his bedtime stories were her lesson plans for the next day. Some children heard about the Three Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood; he learned about Beowulf and Macbeth. While he was in high school - presumably long after the bedtime stories had ended - his mother went back to college for her Ph.D. and later taught at Oregon State University.

Judge Haselton graduated from West Albany High School in 1972, where his debate partner was a friend he had met while trading baseball cards in the 8th grade: future lawyer and gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton. He went to Stanford University where he briefly toyed with the idea of going into medicine, until he took freshman calculus. "If calculus felt that way, I could only imagine what organic chemistry was going to be like." He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford and went to Yale Law School, where he became active in a clinical program representing inmates at the Danbury Federal Prison. He was second chair on a matter for Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, who was "very clear in terms of what he wanted." The judge's third year adviser was Robert Bork - another Watergate figure - whom the judge said was "unbelievably quick and funny." The Bork he saw in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1987 "wasn't the man I'd gotten to know a little bit at the law school."

The new lawyer returned to Portland in 1979 to clerk for Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alfred Goodwin, an experience which is clearly a watershed event in his life. Judge Goodwin helped him learn to write "in ways I still can't explain" and also helped him discover how to take a straightforward, non-ideological approach to cases. Judge Haselton tries to give his clerks the same balance of responsibility and legal education his mentor gave to him.

In 1980, he became the 28th lawyer at Lindsay, Hart, Neil & Weigler, where he stayed for 13 years. He credits firm founder Dennis Lindsay as being someone who had a great influence on him as a lawyer. Lindsay Hart in the 80's was an exciting firm with young lawyers who were both politically and socially active in the community. It was also the breeding ground for many future Oregon judges, including Rex Armstrong, Jack Landau, Robert Wollheim, Thomas Balmer and Janice Wilson; and future Oregon political figures including Kevin Mannix and Ron Saxton. Portland lawyer Martha Spinhirne, now a Chief Attorney at Metropolitan Public Defender, clerked at Lindsay Hart while she was in law school. She remembers Judge Haselton as the "go-to guy" at the firm whenever anyone needed to find a case or refine a point of legal analysis.

Judge Haselton was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1994 and has been the Presiding Judge in Department 1 since 2001. His judicial philosophy is similar to that of his mentor, Judge Goodwin: to view each case on its own merits without any predetermined ideology or goal to influence him. "When I approach a case," Judge Haselton says, "I'm really not trying to make law. The idea is to take the matter on its own terms. If law ends up being made in the process, that's fine. But that's not the point of what we're about."

That philosophy fits well with the discussions he and some other jurists have on their carpool rides to Salem. Occasionally, someone will begin to discuss the legacy of appellate court judges. "I don't think I'll have a legacy," Judge Haselton says, "because I don't think anyone will be able to pin down some constant theme or thread that I'm about. And by me, that's just fine."

Originally authored by Greg Silver and printed in the April 2005 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2007