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

Starting the Change

On his return to Portland,  Barnes carried with him the notion that “one of the joys of being a lawyer is you can be involved in the community and do a range of activity that, hopefully, is helpful.” He was a member of the executive board of the ACLU of Oregon which, in April 1969,  demanded that the municipal court stop using “continued indefinitely” case dispositions.  In a May 1969 Oregonian article, Barnes noted: “The municipal court judges have acknowledged, as we revealed in our 1967 study of the court, that this sentencing practice is continued solely because city police erroneously believe it will insulate them from claims of unlawful arrest.” Later that month Multnomah County DA George Van Hoomissen announced he would no longer prosecute state cases in municipal court and would move them to the state district court, as urged in the 1967 report chaired by Barnes. In 1971 the Portland Municipal Court was merged into the district court, again following the recommendation of the 1967 report.

 In October 1969, the Multnomah Bar Association received a small planning grant for a community-based public defender office. The grant was from the Oregon Law Enforcement Council, formed to administer block grants to the state under the Safe Streets and Crime Control Act of 1968, part of President Johnson’s “Great Society.”  Barnes was appointed to OLEC by Governor Tom McCall.  He became a member of a three-person Multnomah Bar Association committee that used the planning grant to form Metropolitan Public Defenders, Inc. It was MPD that started a public defender office first for the Portland Municipal Court, then state courts in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties, and also for the U.S. District Court.  In June 1971, as a member of the initial MPD Board, Barnes hired James D. Hennings, a former Multnomah County Deputy DA, to be Executive Director of MPD, a position he held for nearly 40 years. Barnes served on the MPD board for 30 years, most of them as chair.

Barnes has always been interested in the dispute side of the law. He describes the dispute side as drawing on “a skill set that I felt okay with.  It requires a lot of analysis, preparation, focus, and you’re dealing with people at a moment of stress in their lives. I’ve always found that not just interesting, but important.” He pursued his work with zeal, continuing to learn from the trial attorneys at his firm and outside it.

He worked with George Fraser in 1970 for the Bend forest products firm Brooks-Scanlon against the engineering firm CH2M Hill, on a case arising out of claimed defects in a wood waste burning boiler. Their opponent was the leading trial lawyer in Central Oregon, Owen Panner (who would become a federal judge in 1980). After the jury was selected and the trial had started, Fraser and Panner reached agreement on a settlement while mucking out horse stalls on Panner’s farm. The settlement amount was large enough to need approval from the underwriters at Lloyd’s of London. At that time, overseas communication was done by telegram with the process taking two to three days. Because it was also chukar hunting season in Bend, neither side wanted to stop the trial. Panner proceeded to do a very slow cross exam of the first witness.  He spoke slowly, repetitively, asked innocuous questions, and did what looked like a very poor job. The jury looked utterly bored. Two days later the doors in the back of the courtroom burst open, a messenger rushed in with a note, handed it to the clerk, who gave it to the judge. He read it, waited a few minutes, and then calmly declared a recess.  The settlement had been accepted and everyone could go home. In later years Barnes enjoyed razzing Owen Panner (who was rightly proud of his trial lawyering skills) about the lousy cross-exam technique he’d witnessed.