Judge Robert E. Jones: Making and Preserving History
By Adair Law
The U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society is pleased to honor Judge Robert E. Jones with its Lifetime Service Award for 2015. This article is based on an oral history conducted by oral historian Clark Hansen in 2005, a Winter/Spring 2007 Oregon Benchmarks article by Jan Dilg and Donna Sinclair, as well as additional research in the splendidly organized archives of Judge Jones. The transcript of the full oral history can be found on this website.
Robert E. Jones, Senior Judge for the U.S. District Court of Oregon, missed being a “Yankee Doodle Dandy Fourth of July baby” by just a few minutes when he was born on July 5, 1927 in Portland, Oregon. His father, Howard Caswell Jones, was born in a sod hut in Hay Springs, Nebraska, on Christmas Day of 1898. Howard was one of the eight children of Burton Jones, a traveling Congregational preacher, who completed his theological studies at Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1897. When Howard was a boy, the Jones family moved west to Morgan Hill, California. It was there that his sense of history and preservation may have been activated. Howard woke up to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake when an “alarm clock fell off of the shelf and hit him on the head.” After the quake, the Jones family moved to Oswego (later Lake Oswego) a small town near Portland. The family continued their peripatetic ways.
Judge Jones’ mother, Leita Estelle Hendricks, was born in Talent, Oregon, on August 17, 1898. Leita’s father was severely wounded in the last raid of the Civil War as a teenage Michigan Cavalry private. Soon after her birth, her family moved to Beaverton, where Howard and Leita met in the third grade.
Howard left high school to go into World War I, where he ended up as a ship’s navigator. Leita became a nurse, and primarily did her work out at Edgefield, then a county poor farm and now a McMenamin’s historic hotel. Howard and Leita renewed their friendship as young adults and married in 1921.
Howard became a customs officer with the U.S. Customs Service. Daughter Betty and son Roger were born in 1923 and 1925 before Robert joined the family.
Howard Jones was very conscious of capturing local and family history with still and early moving film. The Jones family film archives contain the launching of the first Liberty ship from Portland’s Kaiser Shipyards and numerous plays, skits, and aspects of daily life with the children taking center stage.
The Jones family grew up on Portland’s eastside, the children attending Rose City Park Grade School and Grant High School. Bob Jones was playing golf with his dad on December 7, 1941, when they heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Howard Jones joined the war effort immediately as a deck officer. “He took a T-2 tanker built in Swan Island, the Fort Erie, and went right into combat, and stayed there for the rest of the war, taking high-test aviation fuel from Aruba and Curaçao in the Caribbean out to the front lines until the Marines could secure the islands.” He retired as a captain of several ships.
While at Grant High, Jones met his future wife, Pearl Jensen, “the cutest blonde” in the school. He asked her out on their first date on October 30, 1943. After meeting the young man who would later become her son-in-law, Pearl’s mother took the precaution of sewing her daughter into her evening gowns when they went out on dates.
Howard Jones told his children during the Depression that if they wanted spending money, they needed to earn it and Bob had a range of jobs from a young age. While dating Pearl, he worked in the war time shipyards. He and other sixteen-year-olds from Grant High School “were trained for, as I recall, about two days, slapping paint on wallboard and learning how to cut corners and handle paint.” They were hired to work on Russian ships. “We were painting with red lead, which would drive any OSHA person crazy, because our overalls were covered with lead. We were anointed ‘Journeyman’ painters, not just apprentices and were required to join AFL’s Local Number 10 union.” He earned $1.32½ an hour. The Russian sailors were interested in what they were doing and the painters and the sailors exchanged lessons in salty speech from their respective languages. Judge Jones notes that 50 years later “this lowly painter,” at the invitation of Chief Justice of Russia Vyacheslav Lebedev, traveled to Ulyanovsk, Russia with Constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky to conduct a seminar with Russian judges on “The Judiciary and Human Rights.”
Bob Jones graduated from Grant High in 1945. He was a four-year letterman in golf, captain of the golf team, and 1945 winner of the Oregon State High School Golf Championship against later pro Bunny Mason. In 2011, Jones was inducted in Grant’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
The day after graduation, he reported for duty as a Cadet Midshipman USNR. He served on a troopship
to Italy and the Philippines. He was commissioned as ensign and line officer. He later joined the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, attending the Naval War College. He retired as a Navy captain after serving as commanding officer of Oregon Law Company 13-2. In 1998 he received the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York alumnus award for Outstanding Professional Achievement.
Bob Jones and Pearl Jensen were married on May 29, 1948. They left on their honeymoon on May 30, also the day of the Vanport flood. “We were the last airplane out of the Portland Airport before the dikes broke.” The couple made their way to Hawaii, where Bob planned to finish his remaining year and a half of schooling at the University of Hawaii. Pearl found receptionist work at a Honolulu radio station, KULA. He received his B.A. from the University of Hawaii in 1949, along with several famous classmates, including future astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper and Senator Daniel Inouye.
While in school, Jones worked for the Home Insurance Company of Hawaii as an ocean marine underwriter and claims adjuster. He planned to pursue his interest in marine transportation and insurance, but his career path changed when a tug his company insured had an accident. “The tug Ono was one of our risks and it blew up, exploded, and we had deaths, and we had big property losses.” Admiralty lawyers from San Francisco flew over representing marine insurers including Lloyd’s of London. “I got to meet all these people, and I thought, ‘That’s for me.’ That’s a better route to take than being in a fairly limited field, and also a way to get home [to Oregon].”
The Joneses returned to Portland and bought their first home. Pearl worked as a doctor’s assistant while Bob worked for an insurance company and attended night school at Northwestern School of Law, known in the future as Lewis & Clark Law School. He received his L.L.B. (J.D.) in 1953 and gave the student commencement address at graduation. More recently, in 1995, he gave the Lewis & Clark Law School commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. In 2008 an academic chair was established in his name, The Robert E. Jones Chair of Advocacy & Ethics.
In law school, Jones especially enjoyed evidence classes, because “it seemed to me to be the hub of everything; everything flows around it.” Jones, a busy trial lawyer, joined the firm of Anderson, Franklin, Jones, Olsen & Bennett as a partner.
He served as president of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association in 1959. He and Pearl also started a family with their son, Jeff, who was followed by daughter Julie.
Jones had a gift for making collegial connections with many local trial lawyers. As a member of a group who met regularly for coffee and St. Patrick’s Day luncheon when they were in town, he learned a lot about trial law and tactics. The group contained many men who went on to distinguished careers, such as Tom Stoel, John Schwabe, Wayne Williamson, and Walter Cosgrave, as well as Arno Denecke, Bud Lent, and Edwin Peterson, who all became Chief Justices on the Oregon Supreme Court. Several were also recipients of the USDCHS lifetime achievement award; George Fraser, Randall Kester, Judge Edward Leavy, Tom Stoel, and Norm Wiener.
Out of an urge to have stronger moderate Republican representation in the Oregon Legislature, Jones became involved with a group named the Trumpeters, which included future U.S. Senator Bob Packwood, Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh, Jack Faust, Bob Ridgely Dr. Richard Jones, and many other prominent Oregonians. In 1961, Bob Jones was appointed to a 12-member special committee studying problems of legislative reapportionment. He won election to serve as a Washington County representative for the 1963 term. His well-ordered scrapbooks of the time show his election brochures, when he, Vic Atiyeh and John Mosser ran as a triple team.
He served on the Judiciary, Labor & Industries, and Constitution Revision Committees and gave speeches to the community at the Governor’s request. He was appointed to the Multnomah County Circuit Court by Governor Hatfield in 1963. His scrapbooks preserve the following September 19, 1963 note from his legal and legislative colleague, future Chief Judge James Redden.
This can be my only reaction when I see how you are to lift yourself above the tax mess by elevating yourself to the bench.
Seriously, please accept my congratulations on the appointment, which I consider an excellent one. For once, the Governor and I agree.
Judge Robert E. Jones was sworn in on November 3, 1963. It was a transition he was ready for, as the life of a trial attorney was beginning to wear on him. Judge Jones continued as a circuit court judge for the next 19 years.
He served as president of the Oregon Circuit Judges Association in 1967. One of his fondest memories as Chief Criminal Judge in the state court was the establishment of Volunteers in Probation – VIPs. Some 30 women from his wife Pearl’s yoga groups (which met in their home), assisted with many of the female probation offenders for Multnomah County. This project lasted many years and was hugely successful. The probationers received guidance on shopping, motivation, personal hygiene, dress, and budgets. Dentists were found to fix teeth, including one young offender who had lost a front tooth. The men from the Portland Rotary also assisted male probation offenders. For the program, Judge Jones was awarded the “Citizens Award” by the Society of Christians & Jews and the “Service to Mankind Award” by the Sertoma organization.
Judge Jones joined with his Multnomah County Courthouse floor mate Judge John C. “Jack” Beatty in the 1970s to establish a Diagnostic Center, which engaged a psychologist to evaluate serious felony offenders. Judge Beatty wrote in his book The Politics of Public Ventures, “Judge Robert E. Jones obtained a grant to fund an experimental program in which psychological presentence reports were prepared by a staff consisting of an experienced psychologist (Dr. David Myers) and an experienced probation officer. Jones, [Judge Charles] Crookham, and I used the staff to prepare reports on young, dangerous offenders.” The three judges would meet and decide an appropriate sentence, which went on for several years. He further noted, “Judge Robert E. Jones was primarily responsible for setting up the court and served as the first chief criminal judge for some months.” Judge Jones managed to get “the average time from arrest to trial reduced from more than one year to less than sixty days.” They also developed a forest camp for trusted convicts to work planting trees.
Bob and Pearl Jones served as early board members of the Classroom Law Project with Bob and Marilyn Ridgely. This modest beginning now involves some 35,000 students under the guidance of dozens of volunteer tutors. In 1987 Judge Jones was awarded the “Legal Citizen of the Year” by this organization.
Governor Vic Atiyeh appointed Jones to the Oregon Supreme Court in 1982 and he was re-elected to the court for a six-year term in 1985. Jones remained on the high court until May 1990, when he was appointed to the U.S. District Court of Oregon by President George H.W. Bush, filling Judge James Burns’ seat following his taking senior status in 1989. Judge Jones had the foresight to preserve the phone call from President Bush on a cassette. He was invited by the Federal Judicial Center to give the dinner address to the U.S. Supreme Court at the Supreme Court on behalf of his class of 20 newly sworn-in federal Article III judges. Judge Jones was initially based at the Eugene Courthouse. When Judge Michael Hogan was elevated from magistrate to district judge in 1991, Jones returned to Portland.
During his career, Judge Jones participated in the Oregon Evidence Revision Commission, the Oregon Criminal Justice Council, and chaired the Oregon Commission on Prison Terms and Parole Standards. In addition, he chaired the Oregon State Bar’s Continuing Legal Education Committee and the Ninth Circuit Court Judicial Conference Education Committee. Judge Jones continued pursuing his love of evidence. He taught Evidence, Trial Advocacy and Advanced Advocacy at Northwestern College of Law, teaching five hours a week for two decades. He conducted evidence seminars all over the country, from Harvard to Stanford, Alaska to Mississippi for the National Judicial College and the American Academy of Judicial Education, including a summer at the University of North Carolina. In addition to the District of Oregon, Judge Jones has served by designation on the Ninth Circuit, and on the Marianas Appellate Court in Guam. He has also fulfilled assignments to San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson to help those districts overloaded with immigration cases.
Judge Jones’ son Jeff went on to teach the Evidence course his father taught for many years in addition to serving as a Clackamas County Circuit Judge. The two Judge Joneses are co-authors (along with Chief Judge Gerald E. Rosen of Michigan and William E. Wegner of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher) of Federal Civil Trials and Evidence published by the Rutter Group.
Judge Jones became a Senior Judge in May 2000 and Judge Michael Mosman took his place. Since going on senior status, he has presided over numerous complex and historic cases in Oregon and other parts of the country. These include the Louisiana-Pacific Siding cases, Portland Archdiocese bankruptcy reorganization efforts, the “Portland Seven” terror cases, and Death with Dignity. More recently he presided over the “Sweetheart Swindle” case, (which was the subject of ABC’s 20/20), and the international Silk Road methamphetamine dealing cases. He also handled the Case case in Hawaii, an insider trading claim by the descendants of Kauai missionaries for two billion dollars against the Former CEO of AOL Steve Case. The case formed the basis of the movie The Descendants starring George Clooney.
Judge Jones teamed up with renowned Judge Jack Weinstein to select their own panel of expert scientists which resolved thousands of breast implant claims nationally and internationally. On hearing of the USDCHS Lifetime Service Award, Judge Weinstein wrote a letter of congratulations calling him, “my West Coast hero.” Always interested in science, Bob and OHSU researcher Dr. Haydeh Payami lectured to the Ninth Circuit and to Federal Judicial Center Meeting on “Law & Genetics” on several occasions. Even now he continues to preside over a full case load and enjoys a happy chambers.
We thank Judge Robert Jones for his contributions to Oregon legal history and his strong sense of history and preservation.