Oregon Elevates Jodie Mooney to Court of Appeals

By Chelsea Deffenbacher
May 29, 2019 (The Register-Guard) — Lane County Circuit Court Judge Josephine “Jodie” Mooney is packing up her office in downtown Eugene and preparing to head to the state capital next month.

Judge Josephine "Jodie" MooneyMooney was appointed last week by Gov. Kate Brown as the newest of 13 judges on the Oregon Court of Appeals. She will be sworn in June 3.

Mooney, 57, applied for the position in February, the third time she’s submitted her name for the position, the latest of which for the seat vacated by Justice Chris Garrett, who recently moved to the Oregon Supreme Court.

But before Mooney takes her seat on the bench, she sat down with The Register-Guard to discuss her career as well as her life in Eugene, a city she’s called home since 1985.

How does it feel being appointed to the appeals court?
I’m tremendously honored to have been appointed to the Court of Appeals. It’s a big honor to be selected from among a pool of candidates that were all highly qualified. It’s just an honor, it’s very flattering and I’m thrilled.

Are you moving to Salem?
No. I actually like to think, I can’t speak for the governor of course, but one of the reasons I think it might be important for me as a candidate, or something I had to offer that was different than the others, was that I actually am from Eugene. And a little geographic diversity I think is probably good for the statewide bench.

There are a couple of people on the court of appeals from outside of the Portland, tri-county area, but I don’t want to defeat the purpose of having achieved some geographic diversity with our part of the state by moving to Salem. So eventually, will I? I don’t know. But certainly not now.

Tell me about your background.
I grew up in the Midwest, between a couple of small towns in Wisconsin and (in) Indianapolis, Indiana, for a little while. I went to college at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and graduated from there in 1984. And then I moved to Eugene in 1985 to attend law school and I’ve been here ever since.

I actually bought a one-way ticket on a Greyhound bus and that’s how I got here. I’d never been to Oregon before. I was 23, I kind of wanted to get away from home like most 23 year olds, so I selected Oregon…I had also just come out (as a lesbian) in ’84-’85, back in Wisconsin, and that was a little bit of a different time. And I’d heard that you could come to Oregon and live, and people would leave you alone, you could live your life and be successful and be who you were.

And so I got here, and you’ve got mountains, you’ve got ocean, you’ve got desert, and I’d never seen trees as tall as the trees that we have out here. I could hardly believe it. And of course, the people, I was made to feel very welcome at the law school, so the spirit of the people kind of matches the terrain of the country and I know I can never call myself an Oregonian. But I married an Oregonian, I gave birth to two Oregonians, and I’m here to stay.

Can you tell me about your family life?
I have a partner, Lynn, and two children, they’re grown now. A 22-year-old at the University of Oregon and a 20-year-old at (Oregon State University). My partner, we met in law school. She was a lawyer, but she stopped practicing when our kids were born and she raised our kids, stayed at home, so she was very active in the parent teacher organization and did all the things you do to raise children. I coached soccer and basketball, so we had a lot of fun raising our kids. They’re good kids, they’re growing up, it’s hard to believe, it goes fast.

What are some of your hobbies and interests?
I love to bowl. If you know me, you know I like to bowl because I have stacks of books around about bowling and I bowl a lot. It’s just something I enjoy doing. I bowl on a league, so I bowl every Friday night…I also take a lot of pictures, I do photography.

What challenges have you faced in your career, as a woman?
There have been challenges. But I’ve also been very lucky in my career. When I started to practice law in 1988, after I graduated here, this was back when they put little paper posts up on a bulletin board at the career center so there was a little post for a job, a little firm wanted a contract attorney. I didn’t even know what that meant…I thought since I got an A in contracts I could probably do the job. Well, they wanted somebody on a one-year contract. And I went to work for them, it was Calkins and Calkins. And I had no idea.

It was a family firm, they had been in Eugene since the 1920s. And the history was strong and deep in the community, and it was a family firm and I was not a member of that family but they hired me, and my contract ended up being extended for 17 years. It was a father-son firm, and I was given the privilege of trying civil cases from the very beginning and we represented some of the better known service providers in town…Very unusual even then to be able to have that kind of experience early on in your career, but they just believed in me from the beginning. I worked hard, so it worked out well.

So were there challenges, sure. But they were challenges that made me a better person, a better judge hopefully.

I can certainly tell you that back in those days, every once in a while, people still told unfortunate jokes and if I was in a room with a bunch of people and they didn’t happen to know that I had a same-sex partner, sometimes I heard jokes that were unpleasant. But that sort of changed over time. I’m a believer in putting my money on the tortoise, rather than the hare. Change comes with our sort of daily (lives), going to work every day, and holding your head up high, and doing your job well. And being respectful and polite with people, and then people kind of come to understand that we’re all just kind of the same and we have the same goal.

As a judge, how do you go about making your decisions?
There’s difficult decisions all the time. If they were easy, they probably wouldn’t need me to make them. So the decision-making process has to be understanding first of all what’s before me and what is the proceeding, what stage are we at, and what is the law that applies…It is work that takes re-dedication everyday to listen openly every time, because you get a lot of the same cases and a lot of the stories sometimes start to sound the same, but they never are. They’re always a different story.

We all have our own method. I go on the bench and I ask questions and I talk to people, I try to understand what the situation is and I do the best I can to make a decision that I think is fair. I’ve had some interesting cases over the last eight years. I’ve liked this job.

I’m firmly committed to following the rule of law in a way that supports a diverse and open society.

Who are your inspirations?
Win Calkins, the man I worked with for so many years. He became my inspiration as a young lawyer. He trained me.

He died this past year. But he would never talk about which party won a case. We defended civil cases, so we’d try a lot of cases. And he would never talk about whether we won or the plaintiff won. He would ask, “Did justice prevail?” …It may feel like a personal loss to your client, but in reality justice prevails if you’ve done what you can and due process has been followed. And that’s the goal. That should always be the goal. That should be the goal of every advocate, as well as every judge. I’ve always remembered that.

I also tend to credit my dad. Both of my parents get credit, but my dad was a minister who struggled in life. He was an Episcopal priest and he was an alcoholic, and ultimately we lost him just before I turned 13. He was shot in a robbery and killed. But he struggled with alcoholism and I’m always reminded that sometimes people have things that they have done in their lives that are bad things, they’ve made bad choices, and maybe he should have worked a little harder to get into recovery.

But I didn’t live in his shoes. What he did for me, was despite all of the struggle and the hard times…he was the one who started to call me his “lawyerette” when I was like 3 years old. He made me feel like I could do anything that I wanted to do if I worked hard enough to get it. And so, he wasn’t around that long and when he was around it wasn’t always very good, but you don’t just get that kind of inspiration from somebody that’s just there for a couple of nights. He was my dad and he loved me and despite his flaws, I think he gets credit for any successes that I’ve had.

Standards are so much different nowadays in raising kids. I’ve spent a couple of years out at juvenile court and we are very harsh and critical of people now, and for good reason. But I always remember when I am listening to people talk about their struggles and their problems, especially in juvenile court, that just because you’re an addict or an alcoholic or you’ve done this or that, doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of turning things around. And it doesn’t mean you don’t love your children. And it doesn’t mean you’ve never done anything good for your children. So I think that perspective is helpful. I like to think it helped me in particular on the juvenile court bench.

What is your legal perspective?
I’m firmly committed to following the rule of law in a way that supports a diverse and open society. And when I say that, and when I use those words that are sometimes buzz words that start to lose their meaning over time, when I use the words “diverse” and “open,” I mean genuinely and honestly diverse and open. I believe that enforcement of the rule of law allows us to have an orderly society and allows us as individuals to actually respect each other for our differences and to appreciate each other for those things that we have in common, but that goes both ways.

I mention that because I think I’ve been referred to a couple of times maybe over the years as a “diversity candidate.” Well, I’m not sure exactly what that means. You can kind of draw your own conclusion depending upon who says it. But diversity isn’t a bad word if it goes both ways and that’s the way I have to describe it. As a person who is a little bit different—I’m married to a woman, we raised our children here in Eugene—so I of course want to be respected as a person and a parent in my own right regardless of my difference from the majority of the people.

We raised our kids to be free-thinking individuals, and what you learn as you get older, especially as a parent, is that when you raise your kids to be free-thinking, sometimes they think freely and it’s not always the way you think and it always works that way. And I wish that we could figure that out before we finish the process of raising our kids. But it is just as important for me to be tolerant of the differences that I see in other people, in my children and in anybody else.

It’s equally if not more important for me to do that than for me to demand that people be tolerant of my differences, and I think that’s a hard thing to learn. And I think that the role that the law plays in the society, if it’s enforced equitably, fairly, impartially, I think you can get there. But it requires each one of us to look deep inside and make a conscious effort to see things from another person’s perspective.

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