Controlled Descent

Panic at Oregon’s Governor’s Office and Judicial Department

Regardless of who wins, in the remaining weeks of her term, Brown has been given an opportunity to appoint potentially four new judges to Oregon’s higher courts, due to the sudden “planned retirements” of Justice Thomas Balmer and Chief Justice Martha Walters.

It is Brown’s right by statute to do so,¹ even if she will need to considerably shorten the vetting and interviewing process in order to shovel through her judicial appointments before December 31st.

However, the timing of it all reveals that there is likely an underlying crisis of confidence at the Oregon Judicial Department, centered around Walters.

Then on October 11th, the state was hit with a blistering lawsuit filed by the former Executive Director of Oregon’s Office of Public Defense Services, which mentioned Chief Justice Walters no less than 122 times, and vividly and plausibly described her abuses of authority.

The very next day, on October 12th, Brown issued another press release expanding the judicial appointment process for Balmer’s vacancy. The statement included this curious remark:

That is to say: The day after everyone heard about a major lawsuit affecting the state — which eviscerated the current Supreme Court Chief Justice — Brown alluded to possible additional vacancies at the court which might occur during her remaining time in office.

Given that Brown only has two full months left as Governor, and the Supreme Court only has seven positions, it is inexplicable that Brown would make such a portentous statement without inside knowledge.

Sure enough, by October 18th, Walters had submitted her letter of retirement to Brown, who announced it with unusually lavish praise for the outgoing judge:

Chief Justice Martha Walters has been an incredible advocate for Oregonians seeking access to justice, showing steadfast leadership as the first woman to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court. She has been collaborative and fearless in helping to seek solutions to some of the state’s most pressing and complex issues. I appreciate her dedicated service to Oregon, and wish her the very best.

When totaled, it appears that Walters succumbed to pressure to resign — either due to the looming threat of disgrace through the lawsuit, or to protect the court’s liberalism in the growing likelihood of a Democratic loss in the upcoming election, or some combination of the two factors.

Either way, the public trust in Oregon’s courts — which are supposed to be neutral — is weakened.

¹ It should not be lost on anyone that Democrats complained about the unfairness of former President Trump ramming through Amy Coney Barrett at the end of his term, during a divisive election year.

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