From the Multnomah Lawyer: News from the Courthouse November 2019

Presiding Judge’s Report and Courthouse Update Judicial Appointments
Morgan Wren Long and F.G. “Jamie” Troy II have been appointed as family law judges to the Multnomah County Circuit Court. They both started on October 28.

Update on the New Courthouse
In the new courthouse, courtrooms are not directly connected to the judges’ chambers. Each judge will have chambers on the same floor as their courtroom, and judicial staff will be assigned to work stations in secure common areas on the same floor. Floors nine through 17 will have four courtrooms and five judicial chambers on each floor, allowing room for an additional judge if approved by the legislature in the future. This format should ensure that someone from the court staff will be present in each of the judicial chamber areas even if a particular judge’s assistant is unavailable. The fifth judicial chambers on each floor will be used as a conference room until the space is needed by additional judges. Each judge has now selected their courtroom and chambers; their locations in the new courthouse will be announced soon.

The legislature has approved funding for moving costs, equipment, and new furniture designed to fit the new courthouse. Many equipment decisions have been made and the court is now in the process of testing alternatives for the counsel tables in courtrooms. The goal is for the tables to be ADA compliant, functional, durable, and comfortable. They were made available for attorneys to try in Judge Waller’s current courtroom last month and are now being tested for functionality in the new courthouse.

Presiding Judge’s Clerks
Both presiding clerks have taken new positions, and Judge Bushong now has two new clerks who are getting up to speed as quickly as possible. Lawyers and staff often call the presiding judge’s clerks with questions. The answers to many of these questions may be found in the Attorney Reference Manual. Lawyers and their staff are encouraged to check the manual before calling with questions, and to have some patience with the new presiding clerks as they learn this very difficult job. Link to the Attorney Reference Manual.

East County Courthouse
The East County Courthouse will be returning to a five-day-a-week docket soon. The county has committed to maintaining security at the building during business hours five days per week at least through June 2020. Judge Bushong will resume setting civil trials at the East County Courthouse during the first full week of each month.

Budget Cuts Impacting the Multnomah County Justice Reinvestment Program (MCJRP)
MCJRP established a process to assess offenders and provide a continuum of community-based sanctions, services, and programs that are designed to reduce recidivism and decrease the county’s utilization of imprisonment in DOC institutions while protecting public safety and holding offenders accountable. Funding for MCJRP began July 1, 2014.
The effectiveness of the program has been tracked and rigorously evaluated by a team of data analysts under the direction of the MCJRP Steering Committee.

MCJRP-eligible defendants are facing presumptive prison sentences if convicted. Under the program, each eligible defendant’s risks and needs are assessed. That information is used in a judicial settlement conference to determine the appropriate sentence, and, for probationary sentences, to craft the terms of probation that will increase the chances of success. The program has been successful in reducing prison usage without increasing recidivism. The original plan was to expand the program if it proved to be successful. Unfortunately, budget cuts to MCJRP funding from the Criminal Justice Commission have forced the MCJRP Steering Committee to reduce eligibility for the program. Under current funding, the number of eligible participants will be reduced from approximately 1,200 participants this year to about 950. Deciding which offenders would no longer be eligible was difficult and painstaking because the program has been so successful. Efforts are planned for the next legislative session to restore funding. Read more and watch a video about the program here:

Grant from the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge
Multnomah County is applying for a MacArthur grant to study and improve the pretrial release program, with the goal of reducing jail usage in appropriate cases. The grant awards are expected by the end of the year.

Reminder to Civil Practitioners
SLR 7.055(14) requires attorneys handling a case expected to last five days or longer to send a letter to presiding court six weeks before trial so that the court can specially assign the case to an available judge before call. The presiding judge uses these letters to effectively manage the trial calendar and ensure that judges are available to handle the trials. Please send the letter as required by the rule; do not wait until morning call and report “ready” for a trial lasting five days or longer. There are no adverse consequences from sending the letter even if the case resolves before trial, but there are adverse consequences if attorneys refrain from sending the letter, expecting the case to settle. If that happens and the case does not settle, the court may not be able to find an available trial judge. On the other hand, if attorneys send the letter and the case then settles, the court can simply reassign other matters to the assigned trial judge. Section I (A) of the Attorney Reference Manual describes the procedure.

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