Multnomah County judge lays down the law at the Midway Business Association

You will be enlightened, when you read this jurist’s candid comments on courthouses, crooks, and business cases ‚Ķ

The Honorable Thomas M. Ryan, Multnomah County Judge, frankly shares his views to members of the Midway Business Association. Club president, Donna Dionne is in the background, listening intently.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton

Business people in southern outer East Portland are staying connected with their community when they come to meetings of the Midway Business Association.

The action-packed May 9 meeting got off to a good start as Midway’s president Donna Dionne, Love Boutique, discussed housing and commercial development in the area; noting the number of lots that are being split. She also told the group about the hazardous waste collection (seen elsewhere here on East PDX News) a special women’s self-defense class being offered by the Community Center.

State of the courts
Guest speaker Judge Thomas M. Ryan talked with the group. Ryan said he was a public defender until he was named a Judge Pro Tem since 2004.

“This means I wasn’t elected, I am an employee, hired by a judge, to hear cases of all kinds. There are 38 elected judges in the Oregon Circuit Court. But the Oregon legislature budgeted ten additional judges pro-tem [“for the time being”] to help move cases through the court system.”

There are five locations where Multnomah County has courtrooms. “My office, at the Main Courthouse at SW Salmon and Main St., is 80 years old. The building has outlived its usefulness,” Ryan said.

The chamber he occupies has suffered from a broken sewer pipe: “at one time, there was two inches of raw sewage on the floor.”

Not all judges have a courtroom. One county judge holds “settlement conferences” before cases come to trial. “She resolves many cases; this frees up an enormous amount of time and resources.”

Making a case for a Gresham Justice Center
“To serve most of East County,” Ryan explained, “there is a one-room courthouse in Gresham. It is in bad shape. Would like to see some of the county’s excess property sold; with the proceeds used to build a Justice Center with four courtrooms, expandable to six. This concept would provide ‘one-stop’ service, allowing people will be able to file paperwork there ‚Äì instead of having to drive to downtown Portland.”

While some criminal procedures would be held at the Gresham location, criminal trials would still be held in downtown Portland, where the court has “holding facilities”.

Judges’ role in crime prevention
What is the court’s role in community safety?

“We help keep the community safe by dispensing a fair, firm, and practical application of the law,” Ryan said. “Judges find the facts, apply to the law, and give the result ‚Äì the verdict. We enforce state laws as well as city, county and, yes, even TriMet laws.”

He also reported that judges supervise probation. “Each judge has several hundred probationers under their watch.”

Drugs, crime and jail beds
More than 75% of the people coming through the courts because of crime admit to using methamphetamine (meth), Ryan told the group. “Here in East Portland, meth is a real problem that extends far beyond family court. Jail beds are part of the solution for meth-related burglaries here.”

And, we’re doing better in terms of the number of available jail beds, commented the judge. “Downtown and Inverness are fully opened. Wapito isn’t. The county decides how many beds are open at any given time.”

Ryan said many judges find useful the STOP [“Success Treatment Opportunity”] program run by the courts. “It isn’t for dealers. But first-time offenders get treatment, are regularly [drug] tested and appear in court. If they are clean, stay clean, work their program, then can eventually have their case dismissed.  One ‘slip’ doesn’t ace them out.”

Judges’ tools
Ryan advocated for using a wide variety of judicial “tools” when working with criminals. “We need work release programs, in addition to drug treatment. Punishments need to be fair, firm and swift ‚Äì but also smart. You can’t just lock ’em up and throw away the key. This wouldn’t be fair to county taxpayers. Community Court works well for small-time offenders.

“At the same time, we do our best to see there aren’t any more victims created by a given defendant.”

Business law 101
There’s a lot of business litigation, Ryan said. “Last year, 7,245 cases filed, not including evictions, were filed. This doesn’t include torts, slip-and-fall cases, or litigation arising from car wrecks.”

Some times the speed at which cases travel through the system ‚Äì or the lack of speed ‚Äì can be frustrating. “The court has only partial control till after the case is filed. Most cases have to be filed within two years. So, we encourage litigants to mediate and arbitrate. Cases dealing with amounts of less than $50,000 must go first to arbitration.”

If one party doesn’t approve the result of the arbitration, they can still go to court, the judge said; “But if you don’t ‘improve your position’, you’ll pay the other party’s court costs.”

Visit the Midway Business Association
Guests are welcome. Stop by on June 13 ‚Äì you never can tell what you’ll learn! The group meets at noon at Bill Dayton’s Pizza Baron, on SE 122nd Ave. at Division St.

© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News Click Here to read more East Portland News

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