ME, A CRIMINAL??
As I strode confidently to the door of the Capitol Convention Center this last Tuesday for the State Judicial Conference, I noticed several police cars parked at the covered entrance. Little did I know they were there for me.
Several years ago I became an iconoclast within my State Bar Association (SBA). It was without intention. Having been a lawyer in private practice locally and before that, a corporate lawyer nationally, I had a few ideas. When I brought those few good ideas to the Board of Governors of the SBA I thought they would clap me on the back, hail me as a well-met fellow and honor me with all sorts of distinctions. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
It all started in 2001 when I complained to the SBA, that after fifteen years in private practice, citizen complaints against me as a solo lawyer never went away. None of the complaints had merit; usually it was a client that didn’t want to pay their bill or an opposing lawyer that didn’t like my approach to the case. There were no time constraints on the SBA investigation, so they lingered, like a dark cloud over my professional office, until they were resolved. Twenty two (22) of them all dismissed without merit over those fifteen years.
Finally, I decided to do something about it. I complained to the SBA. As President of the Local Bar Association, I became a delegate to the SBA House of Delegates where we got action. We voted to take intake away from the Disciplinary office and create a Client Assistance Office to triage complaints (handle them right away) and create a positive out of a negative. I attended every meeting of the Disciplinary Task force that fostered mediation, diversion, and other ameliorative changes.
Being part of the process was so enjoyable I ran and won an elected seat on the SBA Board of Governors representing over 1000 local lawyers. Immediately, I began a newsletter to those hard-working lawyers to obtain feedback on what local lawyers thought of their mother ship, the SBA. I also became a whistleblower on some peccadilloes the Executive Director was engaged.
Well, that was the beginning of the end. It was just that I didn’t know it.
These police cars in front of the Convention Center were there for me.
Months before I had written to the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court to see if he was interested in my presentation on Judicial Performance Evaluations for the State Judicial Conference. I had made a presentation on the subject to local bar associations and to the SBA Board of Governors. The ‘Chief’, as he is affectionately known, did not respond. So, I wrote again. Finally, they said I could attend, but that I would be subject to, “…a security check and search…” as an uninvited guest. That seemed odd, but I just wanted to see what this Judicial Conference was all about since the Chief had recently spoke about this being a new era of transparency and accountability for the State Supreme Court.
Inside, I went to the registration desk where I met Kim who seemed prepared for me. She told me that I would not be allowed to attend the Judicial Council meeting, I would not be allowed to attend the educational sessions, nor any other sessions of the two day affair. I would only be allowed to attend the one hour luncheon business meeting. Well, I said to myself, that is all right, at least I will be able to see some of what goes into a State Judicial Conference. Kim led me to the Great Hall that was set up for lunch for 200 people and showed me where I could sit. It was by the server tables where they put the dirty dishes after the judges had eaten. I was not allowed a lunch place table with all the others. That is O.K., I wasn’t hungry anyway.
Laden with handouts in case the judges wanted to hear my 15 minute presentation on Judicial Performance Evaluations, I arranged my materials and sat down next to the dirty dishes.
I had just been to the Judicial Garden Party a few weeks before and had taken several pictures of the group. Again, I brought my camera along here. I took it out to take a picture of the Great Hall when a young man in dark clothes came over to me and said sternly, “Mr. Paulson, you are not allowed to take pictures!”. Stunned, I stammered, “How do you know my name?” He menacingly smiled and said, “The judges do not want you to take their pictures.” I asked who he was. He replied, “The State Police”. I asked him if I was breaking any laws in the picture taking. He said, “No, the judges just don’t want you taking pictures.” Whew! How did he know who I was??
I nervously sat down and watched him walk away to the nearest lunch table to where I was sitting by the dirty dishes. Suddenly, I realized that I had left my checkbook on my front seat of my car in plain view, so I went outside to retrieve it. Upon my return, another officer appeared to tell me he had removed my speech materials from inside The Great Room and put them in the hallway. (Kind of like at the airport where one is advised against leaving unattended bags anywhere). He politely told me not to leave without those materials again. This man turned out to be Sgt. Tim Fox of the Oregon State Police. Returning inside, I found my glasses and notebook had been moved to another Server table even further to the back of the room.
Sitting down with a slight case of hyperventilation, I tried to calm myself with a cup of strong coffee. Trying to look casual, I glanced at the table where my first inquisitor was sitting and soon discerned something even more intimidating. The entire table of eight people, save a kindly looking elderly man and woman, was made up of ninja turtles! There were six (6), count ‘em, six state troopers at the table, all looking alternatively at me, them trying not to be noticed. After all, they were all in civilian clothes. You could not miss the Marine haircuts nor the wires connected to their ears, however.
What have I done to deserve this sort of scrutiny from our State Police? That is the question for which I seek an answer. Kim had pointedly placed me just where these six storm troopers could keep a close eye on me. Thereafter, everywhere I went at the convention center, I was followed by at least two of these ninja turtles.
I found Kim again talking to Sgt. Tim Fox to confirm that I was not allowed to any other State Judicial Conference sessions including the education sessions. She confirmed that all these sessions are secret from the public.
On the hour drive back to my home from the State Capitol, do I have to tell you how many times I looked for their vehicles in my rear view mirror? I have never driven so carefully nor so slowly on a freeway in my life.
NEXT -- A REPORT ON THE STATE JUDICIAL CONFERENCE AND WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE.