Courting History

By Christian Carlson

On a sunny Friday afternoon in March, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks treated externs, law clerks, and USDCHS board members to a tour of both his chambers and courtroom at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, and a tour of the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse.  The tour began in Judge Jelderks’s chambers where he noted how fortunate he and other Oregon federal judges are to have such tremendous views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.  With the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse hosting a judicial conference that same week, Judge Jelderks noted that the courthouse’s prodigious views were not lost on his colleagues from other jurisdictions.

Judge Jelderks then led everyone into his courtroom where he encouraged the group to sit in the jury box.  Taking questions from the well, Judge Jelderks noted some of the portraits that adorned his courtroom’s walls: Judge Helen J. Frye, the District of Oregon’s first female Article III judge, and Judge Janice Stewart, the District of Oregon’s first female magistrate judge.  Judge Jelderks also discussed some of his most notable cases including Bonnichsen v. United States, popularly known as the Kennewick Man case, and Barber v. Widnall, a case related to the U.S. Air Force’s World War II mission to shoot down Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto—the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  While both cases involved fairly narrow legal issues, Judge Jelderks highlighted their underlying historical and social context.

Large courtroom in the Gus Solomon U.S. Courthouse. Photo Courtesy of Janice Dilg

Judge Jelderks’s tour then proceeded to the main event: the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse.  Built at the height of the Great Depression using local labor, the building’s Renaissance Revival styling and Art Deco details are something to behold. The massive sixth floor courtrooms—with leather doors, Corinthian columns, soaring ceilings, and oak desks—command immediate attention.  Judge Jelderks led the group through the building’s many idiosyncratic details: the sixth floor courtroom’s bronze lamps, the seventh floor courtroom’s curved jury box, and the seventh floor courtroom’s separate entrance for the attorneys and the public.  Judge Jelderks also included a tour of Judge Robert E. Jones’s former chambers, just off the seventh floor courtroom.

Tour members sit in the curved jury box as Judge John Jelderks shares courtroom history. Photo Courtesy of Jan Dilg

Filled with a new appreciation for public service and the District of Oregon’s great buildings, the tour’s participants went their separate ways.  A few lucky externs and law clerks capped off the tour by enjoying ice cream cones with Judge Jelderks.