Barnes H. Ellis “The role of a lawyer is to be a good citizen”

Setting Portland Roots

Barnes Ellis at the start of his legal career in 1964.

In 1963, Barnes accepted a summer associate position with the largest firm (30 attorneys) in Portland—Hart, Rockwood, Davies, Biggs, and Strayer.  After graduating magna cum laude Harvard Law in 1964, he became an associate in the firm.  Along with a high standard of work, involvement in the community was a firm priority.  Barnes joined the Portland City Club almost immediately (in later years he spent two terms on the board of governors). He participated in cultural panel discussions on local TV. He volunteered with the ACLU. When asked about the challenges of his early years as an attorney, Barnes recalls, “Everything was a challenge, but also an opportunity. I did a range of practice areas from 1964-67, including corporate, tax, as well as some litigation.” Children Barnes C. (1965) and Mary (1967) joined the family .    

Manly Strayer. Strayer and Fraser photos from Stoel Rives LLP: A History.

Barnes’ early mentors at the firm were Manley Strayer and George Fraser (LSA recipient, 2010).  Manley Strayer (1906-85) was born in Baker City, Oregon and attended Willamette University where he took both undergraduate and law courses.  He passed the bar exam but had to delay admission to the bar until he turned 21. After years spent practicing in Baker City in a variety of capacities, he came to Portland to work as an assistant U.S. attorney, and then worked in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  He joined the firm as a partner in 1942.  He was widely regarded as one of Oregon’s great trial attorneys. Iowa-born

George Fraser.

George Fraser (1917-2011) joined the firm in 1946 after serving in the U.S. Navy and attending Harvard Law School.  Barnes found George to be a wonderfully creative lawyer. “He would come up with five out-of-the-box ideas. Four of them would be ridiculous, but one would be brilliant.” As the occasional beneficiary of Fraser’s gentle deflating when it came to working with hot-tempered adversaries, Barnes also appreciated his people and management skills.

Talking about his early work as an attorney, Barnes recalls that a good way for a new lawyer to get time in court “was to volunteer to represent indigent criminal defendants. You don’t get paid much, but my firm was very supportive.” Gideon v. Wainwright was decided by the Supreme Court in 1963 and it would have a profound impact on Barnes’ career.  In 1966, the Due Process Committee of the ACLU of Oregon initiated a study of the Portland Municipal Court.  Barnes chaired the committee and their report, published in April 1967, was referred to as “scorching.”  Recommendations included: transfer of all state cases from the municipal docket to the Multnomah County District Court docket;  removal of drunk cases and creation of a “detoxification facility;” provision of a public defender for indigent defendants; and physical removal of the court facilities from the Police Bureau building

White House Fellow

In 1964, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John Gardner started the White House Fellows program. The program’s goal was to provide several promising young Americans with first-hand, high-level experience in the federal government. It was hoped that they would return to their communities with a sense of personal involvement in the leadership of society.  Fellows earned a full-time salary serving as assistants to senior White House staff, the vice president, and cabinet members. Barnes applied, and after regional and national interviews, he was chosen to be a White House Fellow.  He, Molly, and their three children under age five moved to McLean, Virginia in August 1967.