Judicial Profile: The Honorable Patricia McGuire - Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge

It was a regular Friday afternoon at the Multnomah County Courthouse in the spring of 2018. An African American man was at the family law counter trying to get a restraining order. The problem was the deadline for the day had passed, the docket was over, and the staff told him to return on Monday. The man at the counter was not persuaded. Already very suspicious of the court system (he identified himself as posse comitatus), he questioned the court’s authority, he questioned the court’s rules, and he started filming the staff at the counter. The family clerk called over to my judge’s chambers for help. Several of the judges were in a meeting away from the building, including my boss. I tried to explain the rules to the man myself, but he was very upset. Deescalating his emotions was crucial for me, and I brought him into our office next to the trial court administrator. The man started crying out of frustration and fear, but he was still angry, too.

After several minutes, one of the staff was able to find Judge Patricia McGuire. At that time Judge McGuire had been a family law judge for just around six months (appointed September 13, 2017), and had been a family law practitioner for several years. I told the man that a judge who handled restraining orders was on her way. Judge McGuire approached the man, and I do not recall exactly what he said, but he was surprised to see that Judge McGuire was African American. It immediately put him more at ease. Judge McGuire took over the situation, explaining the rules, allowing him to express his concerns, and after going into the courtroom, getting on the record, he left feeling heard and understood, even if he did not have the restraining order hearing he was seeking.

I had never met Judge McGuire before then, but immediately I knew she was an amazing asset to the bench. She has been a judge for over two years, is the ninth African American to serve as a judge in Oregon and is the fourth African American woman judge when she was appointed by Governor Brown. The first was Hon. Mercedes Deiz; the second was Hon. Adrienne Nelson; and the third was Hon. Ulanda Watkins. Judge McGuire acknowledges the momentous nature of her appointment. “I have the ability to bring that perspective to my work. Because I am African American and partly because I am a native of Oregon, I can bring all these different perspectives to the bench.”

Patricia McGuire grew up in Portland with permanent foster parents, who ended up being her adoptive parents. She considers herself lucky, having been placed in foster care shortly after she was born, to have had a secure placement for all of her childhood. When she turned 18, she aged out of the foster care system and prepared her own adoption papers to formally have her foster parents adopt her. Judge McGuire recalls presenting her papers to Judge Elizabeth Welch, who sent her back home to make corrections. From early on, Judge McGuire was aware of the struggles of legal work.

McGuire graduated from Grant High School, and then graduated from Oregon State University, majoring in graphic design, which provided her with an early career. She worked for an architect as a graphic designer and was able to read blueprints. With that skill, she moved on to a job in the Port of Portland for a company performing ship repairs. When the Port closed the repair yard, she was offered a similar job in San Diego and so she went to California. True to her Oregon nature, she did not enjoy the daily 75-degree days and she returned to Portland looking for her next career. Several of her friends had gone to law school and she admired that they were paid to read, write and think. Setting off on her next career, McGuire attended Lewis & Clark Law School, graduating in 1995.

She started clerking at Davis Wright Tremaine after her first year, returned after her 2L year, and received a job offer following graduation. Patricia practiced at the firm for about 10 years, becoming a partner after six. Her focus was on being a general litigator and she worked on construction, anti-trust, employment, RICO, contract, and First Amendment licensing. She attributes working with her partners as being effective at showing her how to be a lawyer and practice law. As most of us know, complex litigation rarely has opportunities for court and Patricia McGuire really wanted to go to court.

In 2007, Patricia took a break from practicing law and traveled to Europe, something she had never done before. At this second pause in her professional career, she wondered what she would do next.

At that time, a very good friend asked Patricia to join their family law practice, to help out. Personal tragedy struck her friend, and four months later the focus for Patricia changed from helping to taking over a law business.

McGuire practiced family law with Andrew Bobzien at Bobzien McGuire from 2007 until 2013 and partnered with Loren Thompson at McGuire Thompson from 2013 until she was appointed to the bench in 2017. In addition to divorces and custody disputes, she handled several challenging restraining order cases.

“Family law is the most interesting law you can practice. It draws from all the areas of law and you have to know about a lot of different things. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet. You might need to ask someone for assistance to figure out issues.”

As a family law judge, Judge McGuire oversees some estate and probate cases, and with her personal experience taking over a firm, she reminds lawyers to plan for the possibility that we could become incapacitated and unable to practice.

“Lawyers have an ethical obligation to protect their clients’ interests in the event of lawyer death, disability, or incapacity.” The Professional Liability Fund has a great handbook (with forms) to help you with that process: “Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients’ Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death,” which is available at www.bit.ly/osbplanning-ahead.

About 85 percent of people who appear in front of Judge McGuire are self-represented, she estimates. When she practiced, about 75 percent were self-represented. They are involved in custody battles and divorces. “They are very stressed out. The matters are so incredibly personal to people. People come into court one way and then they may leave another. You may walk out the door no longer being a custodial parent. It’s my job to explain how the process works, explain what my role is, and find out what they need and how to help with their problems. It’s a positive thing to do.”

Volunteering for Legal Aid Services of Oregon Pro Se Assistance Project gave her the familiarity of how to talk to folks. It was a natural roll-over into becoming a judge. People will come into her courtroom need in an immediate danger order. She must walk the line of helping solve their problems, providing all the available options, but not giving legal advice.

“Judges must be able to be straightforward with their role. We spend a lot of emphasis on procedural fairness and access to justice so people feel like they are heard. Procedural justice is an integral part of every area of the courthouse. People are at a very emotional time in their lives. It is helpful to give people an opportunity to be heard. If this happens and decisions are reached even if not in their favor, they feel it was a fair decision. It helps them with the rulings of the court.

“Looking back from a two-year perspective, the first year flew by. I was so completely absorbed. The second year has concluded. Now I am able to understand the biorhythm of being a judge. It’s interesting - I feel like I have a different perspective.

“One of the things that Judge Anna Brown has said and that I have taken to heart is that you need to make sure that you take time for yourself. You can’t fix every problem. Work is like a firehose; you can’t manage everything. You’ve got to think long term. It’s a marathon, and not a sprint.”

On that one Friday in the Spring of 2018, I experienced first-hand how Judge Patricia McGuire uses her unique perspective in service to the community as a Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge. She was able to listen, understand, and communicate with an individual who was not trusting of our judicial system, but who needed our help regardless. I am truly thankful she was there when we needed her.

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