Judge Robert WollheimOregon Court of Appeals
Robert Wollheim thinks he has the best job in the world. He has a great work environment; he works with people who get along and respect each other and who are committed to "getting it right." He particularly enjoys working with his law clerks, and at least annually invites all his clerks to a get-together at his Portland home.
Judge Wollheim came to the law in a less-than-traditional manner. He began his college career at Reed College in 1968 but did not finish. In the early 1970s, he became involved in doing prison reform work, along with lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild. Through the guild, Wollheim met some local lawyers who eventually formed a local partnership, with Wollheim signing on as a legal assistant. He worked with that firm and another before moving to Lindsay Hart as a legal assistant. It was through this legal assistant work that he developed his interest in the law. Not having a BA, he looked for the fastest way to complete his degree so he could apply to law school. He took some classes at Portland Community College, then attended Portland State University while working full time, earning his bachelor's degree in general studies in 1979.
Once he had completed his degree, Wollheim spent a year traveling throughout North America, describing the United States as an "amazing country." He began law school at the University of Oregon in 1980 and transferred to Lewis & Clark, from which he graduated in 1983.
Judge Wollheim began his legal career as a floater clerk with the Court of Appeals, at the end of the year working with Chief Judge George Joseph and Presiding Judge W. Michael Gillette. He notes that he is the only former Oregon Court of Appeals clerk who has then taken the Court of Appeals bench. Then, he began working for the law firm of Welch, Bruun & Green, focusing his practice on workers compensation, personal injury and Social Security disability. Approximately one third of his work was appellate practice. He became a partner in the firm in 1990, becoming a named partner in 1993.
Throughout his practice, Wollheim did significant pro bono work. In addition, he served on the boards of the Multnomah County Legal Aid Service, the Willamette Valley Law Project and the AFL CIO Laborers' Service Agency. He believed that becoming a judge would allow him to continue his public service. He was appointed to the bench in early 1998 by then Governor John Kitzhaber. He was sworn in on March 8, 1998, and filed for election the next day, thereafter being elected to his position.
During Judge Wollheim's 2004 re election campaign, he found himself in a contested race. As a result, he campaigned throughout the state, which he found to be a humbling experience, saying he learned a lot in the process. He spent time in rural Oregon. He found himself becoming a civics teacher, talking with voters about the rule of law, the necessity of having an independent judiciary and the separation of powers. He also said it was heart warming to receive so much support from other lawyers during his re election campaign, especially since he has much less interaction with lawyers as a judge than he did as a lawyer.
He continues his involvement with legal programs. He was on the Oregon Judicial Department's Access to Justice for All Committee, and is the Presiding Judge of the court's motions panel, which reviews and decides many substantive motions each month. He is on the board for the Campaign for Equal Justice and was on the Oregon Judicial Department's Employees Appeal Board, hearing grievances from employees from the Oregon Department of Justice.
To keep his skills honed, Wollheim occasionally sat as a trial court judge. He sat in Lane County in 2003, has heard civil commitment cases in Marion County, and video-conferenced post conviction trials in Malheur County. He was appointed to the Commission on Judicial Fitness & Disability in February of 2006.
Judge Wollheim grew up on the south side of Chicago, the youngest of three boys. He has been a White Sox fan for years, and says he has never been a Cubs fan and never will be, although his father and brothers have gone over to the "dark side."
In his spare time, Judge Wollheim enjoys spending time with his family, and spending time at the family's shared cabin near Mount Hood. He also enjoys reading, despite the fact that he reads thousands of pages each month for his job.
Judge Wollheim thrives in his position as an appellate judge and is honored to serve Oregon's citizens in this role.
Originally authored by Theresa Wright and printed in the July/August 2005 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2007