Federal Judge Robert E. Jones ends his judicial career at age 95 after 59 years on the bench

Maxine Bernstein / oregonlive.com (TNS)

The jury box was full. The prosecution and defense desks were occupied. The public gallery was packed.

When the judge entered the 10th-floor courtroom in downtown Portland, he did not sit on the bench. He didn’t put on his usual black robe.

Instead, US District Judge Robert E. Jones, dressed in a pale blue blazer and black pants, entered through a side door and the courtroom erupted in applause.

After 59 years on the bench, Jones, at 95, is basically retiring. Although he officially remains on active duty, he will no longer preside over cases in court.

Jones served as a Multnomah County Circuit Judge for 19 years and as an Oregon Supreme Court Justice for eight years before being appointed to federal court in May 1990, where he served for 32 years.

Fellow judges, attorneys, family and friends filled his courtroom last week to congratulate Jones on his long service, dedication to the law and decades of teaching aspiring lawyers who then often ended up appearing to argue cases before him.

“Judge Jones is a giant. He has done this job with dignity and grace for decades,” Marco A. Hernandez, a federal district judge from Oregon, told the crowd. “He is the Iron Horse of this district. I feel very, very privileged to have served on this bench with one of the greats.”

Hernandez said he was in the first grade when Jones first became a judge in 1963.

Jones, a Grant High School graduate who grew up in Portland, married his high school sweetheart Pearl, joined the US Navy Reserves after graduation and rose to the rank of captain. While working toward his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Hawaii, he worked as a marine underwriter and claims adjuster for the Home Insurance Company of Hawaii.

He planned to pursue a career in insurance until a fatal explosion occurred on a ship his company insured. Jones met Admiralty lawyers who flew in from San Francisco to represent marine insurers, sparking his interest in the law.

He returned to Portland and attended Northwestern School of Law, now Lewis & Clark Law School, at night, graduating in 1953. He worked as a trial attorney and became a partner in the law firm of Anderson, Franklin, Jones, Olsen, and Bennett. He later served as president of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association.

He briefly deviated from the law to run for political office, elected in 1963 to the state House. He served briefly until former Governor Mark Hatfield appointed him that year to a judgeship on the Multnomah County Circuit Court.

While working as a judge, he also taught his favorite law school class, evidence, at his alma mater, putting in about five hours a week for two decades.

“I don’t think there is another person in this room who can think of an attorney who has made a greater contribution to the practice and understanding of the law in the entire history of the state of Oregon,” said attorney Larry Sokol of Lake Law Firm. Sokol & Associates personal injury attorney based in Oswego.

As a young lawyer with questions about the evidence, Sokol said he would sometimes stop at Jones’s home, where Jones kindly counseled and gave him advice.

Retired US Attorney John Haub said Jones was his professor when he attended law school at night.

“We had the benefit of being taught the law of evidence by Judge Jones while he was presiding over the trials,” he said. As a result, Jones brought the law to life for his students, he said.

In and out of the classroom, Jones liked to keep his students on their toes with frequent quizzes or pop questions, Haub said.

Attorney Philip Lewis recalled Jones’ ingenuity as his professor at Lewis & Clark Law in 1977, when he advised students: “Never refer to a witness as a low witness. Call them a brief witness.”

Assistant US Attorney Gary Sussman, who also had Jones as an evidence teacher and later appeared before him numerous times as a US attorney, called Jones a “titan” who showed a true love of the law and education.

“You tried so hard not to let him down, to not let him down,” Sussman said.

Fellow prosecutor Thomas Edmonds said Jones also came to court well prepared, particularly in the complex drug cases he presided over that involved multiple defendants.

Oregon federal public defender Lisa Hay said the bar has always appreciated Jones’s evidentiary skills in the courtroom and “his no-nonsense way of getting to the heart of the matter.”

Jones has been known to tell prosecutors to “keep it simple” and to “stop trying to prove too much,” Hay said.

“He has also been forthright and candid with our clients, ordering at least one to ‘stop smoking’ as part of the imposed sentence (we objected, of course),” Hay recalled in an email. “We applaud and honor his amazing years of public service.”

Among some of Jones’ major failings:

– In 1996, he refused to allow scientific testimony at trial that silicone breast implants caused various diseases because he said the evidence was unconvincing and did not support the claims. He marked one of the first attempts to implement a 1993 US Supreme Court ruling that ordered federal judges to keep unproven scientific evidence out of the courtroom.

Jones and New York US District Judge Jack Weinstein, who have overseen numerous breast implant cases, took the unusual step of appointing a national panel of experts to help settle the scientific debate over the health effects of implants.

The court-appointed panel’s findings formed the basis of thousands of cases that have been settled against the manufacturer Dow Corning.

In 1998, Dow Corning offered $3 billion to pay out over 16 years to 177,000 women with breast implants as part of a $1 billion bankruptcy plan.

– In 1996, approved a negotiated settlement for homeowners suing Louisiana-Pacific Corp. over defective siding on their home. He agreed to a plan that gave homeowners a recourse to arbitration if they didn’t like the terms they got from adjusters who examined their homes.

The arbitration was expected to cost the forest products company an additional $15 million to $20 million on top of the minimum $275 million it agreed to pay to settle the class action lawsuits.

– Oversaw the first sexual abuse case of a Catholic priest before a jury in Oregon. He oversaw mini-trials that were advisory and designed to help estimate the value of claims made by men who alleged that they were abused by the Rev. Donald Durand in the 1970s and 1980s. the Archdiocese of Portland had enough money set aside for unresolved claims.

– In 2008, it ruled that Steve Case, co-founder and former CEO of American Online Inc., did not use illegal inside information when he bought a land company in Hawaii in 2000.

Descendants of the Kauai missionaries had accused Case and his companies of obtaining insider information for the $26 million purchase of stock in Grover Farm Co., a former sugar plantation.

After two years of litigation, Jones found that shareholders failed to prove their claims and dismissed more than $2.5 billion in damages sought against Case.

Grove Farm, founded by GN Wilcox in the 19th century, controlled thousands of acres and the largest trading center on Kauai in 2000.

The case formed the basis for the film “Descendants” starring George Clooney.

— He presided over the “Portland Seven” cases, in which seven people were charged with aiding terrorists in conspiring to aid Al Qaeda and the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan.

The government convicted six of the Portland Seven of trying to reach Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. Two of them, Patrice Lumumba Ford and Jeffrey Leon Battle, were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

– He presided over the so-called Sweetheart Swindle case, in which a man named Blancey Lee was convicted of conspiring to defraud Gaston tree farm heir Ralph Raines Jr. of his $15 million family fortune as part of a plot with her lover and her. daughter.

– The last complex case he handled was the three-week trial of FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita, who was accused of lying to hide that he allegedly fired two shots at the truck of Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation spokesman Robert” LaVoy” Finicum” in January 2016. A jury acquitted Astarita of two counts of false statement and one count of obstruction of justice.

Jones’s son, Jeffrey Jones, a Clackamas County judge who at 67 joked that he certainly couldn’t retire before his father, also now teaches evidence at Lewis & Clark Law School.

While his father earned the court nickname “The Iceman,” his son assured those gathered to celebrate his father that Jones was a loving father to him and his sister and that he recently became a great-grandfather.

Jeffrey Jones said his daughter gave birth to a girl on July 3.

“When my dad saw the baby, he did something I’ve never seen him do before,” he said, noting how his father simply clasped his hands in front of him silently. “He was speechless, if not breathless, and he had never seen him react like that before. But I can tell you that at that moment, the Iceman melts.”

Jeffrey Jones said he hopes that when people see the portrait of his father that now hangs in the 10th-floor courtroom, they will not only recognize Robert Jones for his immense legal service, but also as a dedicated father and family man.

“It’s been a wonderful life, both in court and at home,” the older Jones told the crowd. Smiling at his wife, he shared that the two had just celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary.

The man who excelled at golf in high school has stayed active. In recent years, it was not unusual for the judge to descend the courthouse staircase 10 stories with his staff to exit the courthouse during a fire drill.

Jones said all of his room employees have either retired or are about to retire.

“I am so grateful to each and everyone for making life worth living,” he said, “and I hope I have served justice.”

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