Judge Susan Svetkey

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Susan Svetkey

Judge Svetkey was born and raised in New York and is one of six children. She is still very connected to her entire family even though they all remain on the east coast.

For Judge Svetkey, children have always been her focus. She obtained her undergraduate degree from NYU. Upon graduation, she moved to Oregon where she obtained her Masters in Education from U of O. She then taught in a high school Title 1 program for at-risk kids before deciding to go to law school so she could represent kids. Upon graduating from U of O law school, Kathleen Nachtigal hired her to provide indigent defense to juveniles in the Juvenile Law Center . It was the perfect job: both challenging and rewarding. After the program lost its funding, Susan held positions with Legal Aid and the Metropolitan Public Defender while working to obtain grants for a juvenile civil rights office. She, together with two other attorneys from the Juvenile Law Center, obtained funding for the Juvenile Rights Project, where they handled cases that addressed state-wide civil rights issues involving juveniles. Many of her cases were class actions involving conditions of confinement. That office continues to exist today, having expanded from three lawyers to nineteen.

In 1982, she left the Juvenile Rights Project to go into private practice, where she continued to focus her practice on children, representing them in juvenile court and in custody disputes in family court. For her first two years of private practice, she shared space with Connie Jarvis, who mentored her on domestic relations cases. Then, for about 16 years, she shared space with attorney Larry Matasar, Phil Margolin and the late Doreen Margolin, until she was appointed to the bench to fill the vacancy of retired Judge Herrell. While in private practice, she served on many bar committees and spoke at numerous CLEs regarding juvenile law. She also sat as a pro-tem judge in juvenile court for many years.

She views her job as a juvenile court judge as an honor and an enormous responsibility. The very happiest moments in juvenile court for Judge Svetkey are adoption ceremonies. The most challenging moments usually involve parents who are working hard to learn how to take care of their children, but who misstep on that journey. As a judge, she is still striving to adjust to the constant need for focus, the intensity of the job and the profound decisions she must make. Every day presents something new and interesting.

Judge Svetkey believes that her position as a juvenile court judge offers her more opportunities to positively impact the lives of children as well as how they are treated within the juvenile system. With the implementation of the one family/one judge system, she is able to maintain continuity with the families that she sees and develop a more coherent approach to the varied issues which are presented.

Originally authored by Cassie Morton and printed in the November 2000 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2012