Lara Johnson Appointed to Council on Court Procedures

Rules of civil procedure are part of the nuts and bolts of how non-criminal cases are prepared and how the courts and juries do their work.  While those rules may seem technical, they are extremely important.  Former Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, who had been Dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, observed that in practice procedures determine rights.   Litigation can unfairly favor powerful and wealthy interests, so it is important that the rules of procedure promote “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination” of every case – a tall order.  (Oregon Rule of Civil Procedure 1B).

Up until 1977, Oregon had “no coordinated system of continuing review of the Oregon laws relating to civil  procedure.”  (Oregon Revised Statutes 1.725(2)).  Before then, rules of procedure were a complex jumble of court decisions, customs and historical practices, and statutes.  In that year, the Oregon Legislature created the Council on Court Procedures to “review the Oregon laws relating to civil procedure and coordinate and study proposals concerning the Oregon laws relating to civil procedure advanced by all interested persons.”  (Oregon Revised Statutes 1.725(4)).  The Council has 23 members:  the Oregon Supreme Court chooses one of its judges and a public member; the Court of Appeals chooses one of its judges; eight Circuit Court judges are chosen by the Circuit Judges Association; and twelve attorney members are selected by the Oregon State Bar.  The practice has generally been that half of the attorney members represent plaintiffs (the people prosecuting lawsuits), and half represent civil defendants.

Council members serve four year terms.  Suggestions for changes in the rules come from the public, judges, and attorneys.  Traditionally, amendments that have a sufficient level of interest to justify the time and work are assigned to committees that generally include at least on judge, one plaintiff attorney, and one defense attorney.  The Council itself works on a two year cycle, sending to the Legislature rules the Council has adopted or amended (“promulgated”).  That allows the Legislature to amend, repeal, or supplement any rule if it chooses to do so.  If the Legislature does not act, the rules the Council adopts or amends become law in Oregon.  The trust the Legislature has placed in the Council may be unique in the United States.

Lara Johnson was recently appointed by the Oregon State Bar to serve on the Council on Court Procedures.  She is one of the members of the Council whose work involves represents plaintiffs, most often people physically harmed by the wrongful conduct of others.  Lara began her Council term in the fall of 2023.