Nunc Pro Junc

Case-fixing by staff in Oregon’s most important circuit court

The latest judicial victim is The Honorable Tracy Prall, the Presiding Judge of Marion County Circuit Court — arguably, as the seat of the state government, Oregon’s most crucial courthouse.

In this instance, Judge Prall allegedly authored and e-signed an order “reassigning” a Marion civil case (filed against local attorney James Van Ness) to Judge Kathie Steele, the Presiding Judge of Clackamas County Circuit Court.

The problem was that the order signed August 30, 2021 — which had never been made verbally in open court or committed to paper in any way — was inexplicably backdated, nunc pro tunc, to November 1, 2019.

For those unfamiliar with that expression, it is Latin for “My bad. I made a typo on the first order. Here’s the corrected copy.”

What it is not Latin for, is “Hold my beer while I patch up the defects in this procedural train-wreck.”

Importantly, Tracy Prall — a judge for sixteen years, a licensed attorney for 26 years, a deputy district attorney for seven years, and a former special assistant U.S. Attorney — certainly knows the difference.¹

Judge Prall absolutely knows how to nunc pro tunc properly. This ain’t it.

That means that Judge Prall did not personally sign this nunc pro junc, and probably did not see it or even know anything about it. If she did have a lapse and sign it, she did so only after being misinformed about the case—like she was told that there was a previous version of an order, and she was simply being asked to sign and enter a corrected copy.

But the record is very clear in this matter: there is no prior order that needed to be fixed. Therefore, if Judge Prall did sign it,² the situation was knowingly and intentionally misrepresented to her by her own court staff. Judge Prall’s authority has been undermined. (It happens. Everywhere.)

That type of deceit, of, course is a serious problem. Court staff is not supposed to have any interest in the proceedings in their courthouse.

When court staff does show an interest in a case, like in this situation, it is not for zero reasons.

And none of those reasons can be legal or fair or honorable. It is corrupt to pretend otherwise.

The other victim in this matter — besides Judge Prall and the public who depends on a fair judiciary — is the person suing attorney James Van Ness for fraud and conversion. When that victim received the nunc pro tunc order yesterday, he immediately pointed out to court staff that the order was void, in a “you have got to be kidding” email, threatening to file a civil rights suit in federal court.³

Within hours, Judge Prall’s Judicial Assistant Cynthia Haddad issued an amended order, having removed the nunc pro tunc and applying the correct date.

Apparently, Ms. Haddad was just kidding… but Presiding Judge Prall and Oregon’s courts are the punchline.

¹ See Frederick & Nelson v. Bard, 66 Or 259, 262, 134 P 318 (1913). See also Matter of Marriage of Haimovitz, 987 P. 2d 584 (1999), regarding oral rulings being nunc pro tunc’d. (Spoiler: Don’t!)

² It is certainly possible that court staff “signed” the order without any involvement from Judge Prall, and without her knowledge: The order was “signed” during lunch, and the amended order was “signed” after the court had closed for the day.

³ This new order is just the latest attempt to funnel the case over the Judge Steele in Clackamas, where it does not belong — something that Van Ness and his attorneys and Marion court staff (and others) appear desperate to do for some reason, and just another procedural irregularity in a case that already has a hundred of them. Every one of those irregularities is evidence of a civil rights violation. But by law, at least now the victim can disqualify Judge Steele within 24 hours, since there is finally an order appointing her. If Marion court staff manages to block that disqualification, then the next step is federal court.