Judge Anna J. Brown Takes Senior Status: (Creating the Potential of Just the Fourth Oregon Woman to Serve as U.S. District Judge in the Court’s 158-Year History)

By Heather Van Meter

Judge Anna J. Brown

After 25 years as a trial judge, including nearly 18 years serving as an Article III judge for the District of Oregon, Judge Anna Jaeger Brown will transition to “senior status” on July 27, 2017, which will create a vacancy on Oregon’s U.S. District Court to be filled by presidential nomination and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.  Judge Brown plans to reduce her caseload and work less, with greater ability to select her caseload and control her time.  She looks forward to having more time to be with her husband, Paul, to whom she has been married for nearly 40 years, and with her large extended family. She also intends to spend time traveling, gardening, knitting, and enjoying life away from the bench.

Judge Brown’s long, distinguished career as a trial lawyer and judge in Oregon was born when she was in the night program at Lewis & Clark Law School (then known as Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College) and while she clerked during the day for Multnomah County Circuit Judge John C. Beatty, Jr. Judge Beatty’s daily docket immediately drew her to trial court work. Once admitted to the Oregon bar in 1980, she joined the Portland-based Bullivant Houser Bailey law firm and, in 1986, she became one of the first two women elected to the firm’s partnership. She was then one of a small group of women trial lawyers in Oregon handling civil jury cases, and in time, she broadened her professional focus to consider judicial service.  Judge Brown is forever grateful to Governor Barbara Roberts who, in 1992, first appointed her to a vacancy on the Multnomah County District Court and just four years later appointed her to a circuit court vacancy.  There, Judge Brown presided over many routine and complex criminal, family law, and civil matters, including the highly publicized Williams v. Phillip Morris jury trial, Oregon’s first tobacco-products-liability case whose punitive damages award was reviewed in multiple Oregon appellate and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

In 1999, while President Bill Clinton sought to fill numerous federal judicial vacancies through an active Republican-controlled Senate, Judge Brown submitted her name for consideration to fill the vacancy created when U.S. District Judge Malcolm F. Marsh took senior status.  With her sterling reputation as a trial lawyer and judge, together with the unanimous support of Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, she was easily nominated, confirmed, and sworn in as a member of the U.S. District Court of Oregon on October 26, 1999.

Of the 29 U.S. District Judges who have served in Oregon since the court’s founding in 1859, only three have been women:  Judge Helen J. Frye was the first, appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980; former Chief Judge Ann L. Aiken was the second, appointed by President Clinton in 1998; and Judge Brown was the third and last appointed nearly 18 years ago.  Judge Brown has profound respect for her male colleagues, including the four men appointed to be district judges after her, but she is adamant it is well beyond time for another woman to be named to Oregon’s District Court bench. She sincerely hopes her time as a senior U.S. District Judge will include the collegial company of a woman as Oregon’s 30th U.S. District Judge.

Oregon’s Federal Women Judges, 2017–Back Row: U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Perris, Chief Bankruptcy Judge Trish M. Brown, and U.S Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan. Middle row: Ninth Circuit Court Judge Susan P. Graber. Front Row: U. S. Magistrate Judges Jolee A. Russo, Youlee Yim You, Stacie F. Beckerman, U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice M. Stewart. Photo by Keene Studio.