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A Clackamas County original: Judge Ralph Holman

During the time that Clackamas County’s Judge Ralph Holman served as a justice on the Oregon Supreme Court, I got to know him and his wife as a law clerk for another justice of the court. I join others in not just mourning his death earlier this month at the full age of 99, but in saluting his long and productive life.

Judge Holman never forgot what shaped him as a lawyer: the practical impact of the decisions that he and other judges address in matters before them. He also talked about how he missed the vital, lively courtrooms and hallways of the Clackamas County Courthouse, where — he reminded us — many trials featured real people and their immediate lives. He compared this to the quieter, somewhat removed, more formal Supreme Court in Salem. He discussed the more abstract nature of some appellate court cases that could make appellate judges feel removed from the lives of the people involved in such cases.

Judge Holman also never forgot that he was a guy from a small town, and he never lost touch with those roots. He used to tease those of us from Portland, or in one case, his law clerk from New York City. He reminded us that, in his view, we city dwellers lacked an understanding of the joys of small schools, of small main streets, and of knowing all the local lawyers. He loved Clackamas County, its people and his fellow lawyers with whom he had lived, practiced law and served as a judge.

Among my other memories of both Judge Holman and his wife was their love of antiques. On one occasion when they had invited me for dinner, much of the evening was spent discussing their own beautiful antiques — most of them with accompanying Holman stories that brought many of these antiques to life.

His legacy, I think, is as a judge who resisted academic or abstract analyses of court issues in the opinions he wrote or other cases where he agreed or dissented. He wanted his colleagues not to lose sight that people and their lives were involved in many of the court’s cases, and not to overlook that in favor of some abstract legal principle.

Other friends who knew him probably shared my first thought of Judge Holman as I read his obituary: him smiling broadly as he paused — or warmed up — to make an insightful comment or begin some gentle teasing.

Walt Evans is a lawyer with the Northwest regional law firm Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt. He served as law clerk to Chief Justice William Perry when Ralph Holman was an associate justice on the court.



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