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Passing judgment in Oregon's top court
Passing judgment in Oregon's top court

IN 2000, JUDGE Paul De Muniz '72 became the first Hispanic American elected to the Oregon Supreme Court, and last January his colleagues unanimously voted him the court's chief justice.

De Muniz, who says it would be a stretch to say he ever dreamed of being head of Oregon's judiciary branch of government, feels humbled by the opportunity.

"Every day I'm thankful to be a member of the legal profession. I believe it's the cornerstone of our democracy, and one of my goals is to continue to protect the public's access to impartial courts."

As chief justice, De Muniz directs administrative details for the seven-member Supreme Court, while leading Oregon's judicial system, including its 1,800 employees, 200 elected judges, and $350 million biennial budget.

De Muniz says such cases as questioning the legality of Measure 37, Oregon's controversial property-compensation law, or legislation affecting Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System represent the kinds of difficult decisions the court must make. The judges don't always achieve consensus, but they maintain a collegial atmosphere.

"We have fierce intellectual battles, but our court is very proud of the fact that we get along with one another both professionally and personally."

De Muniz practiced law for 15 years before winning a seat as a judge on the state Court of Appeals in 1990. The change required a shift in perspective.

"There's a significant distinction between being an advocate for an individual and seeking to understand the fundamental principle of law involved in a case," explains De Muniz. "A judge has the luxury to study legal problems more deeply."

Thriving on the different and interesting problems that surface each day, De Muniz says that in past 31 years, he's never been bored. Now, the chief justice is also planning the future of the judicial branch to ensure it will respond to society's changing needs.

Profile by KJ Fields