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Remembering Judge Garr M. King: “Unquestionably and Eminently Qualified”

By Carra Sahler

When I try to conjure up an image that captures what it is to have “good judicial temperament” it is Judge Garr M. King who comes to mind. A man who embodied kindness and thoughtfulness, he was decisive, fair, diligent, and empathetic as well. I had the pleasure and joy of working for Judge King for 12 years, nearly two-thirds of his service on the federal bench. His service started with his appointment by President Clinton in 1998 and ended with his death on February 5, 2019. Those who knew him called him Mike—asking for Garr on the phone marked the caller as a stranger. But to his staff he was simply Judge—a respected and respectful decision maker.

Judge Mike and Mary Jo KIng with Judge Ed Leavy at USDCHS Annual Picnic, 2008. Photo by Owen Schmidt

Former partners, former adversaries, counsel to parties in federal court, and friends could find him at the Multnomah Athletic Club every morning. Early in his career on the bench, he played tennis (he once played with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Ninth Circuit’s tennis tournament), and later on he swam. They could find him with Mary Jo, his wife of over 60 years (who passed away just weeks after he did), at bench and bar events many evenings. He told me he knew some judges felt they should be careful about socializing with attorneys, but he thought it was important because he never wanted to forget what it was like to be a practicing lawyer.

Everyone experienced that respect when appearing before him. Although he wanted to move cases along—indeed, he cleared his desk before leaving for home each night—he never insisted on deadlines for the sake of deadlines, remembering what it felt like to be at the mercy of the court. When anyone asked him about the most difficult part of his job, without hesitation he said sentencing defendants in criminal cases. He pored over sentencing materials to ensure he handed down the most reasonable and appropriate sentence, and he often received thank you letters from individuals grateful to him for the fair hearing he gave them.

In my first year as his law clerk, fresh from serving as an associate at a large law firm, I remember discussing some piece of business—a draft opinion or the details of a hearing we had just left—when Judge gave me a review, of sorts. Never a pre-arranged affair, his reviews of my work seemed to come periodically and just when I needed feedback and support. After praising me, he mentioned as an aside that this was a good place to have a family. I appreciated his candor and knew it came from a place of experience; he greatly valued the company of his seven children and thirteen grandchildren. After my son was born, Judge invited my husband and me to his house. We arrived and Mary Jo—always the consummate hostess—promptly offered a tour of their beautiful home overlooking the city and Mt. Hood. I set my son down, still buckled into his car seat, to look around the house. When I turned around, Judge had my infant in his arms, walking him around the deck, patting him on the back. Add gentle to the list of Judge’s characteristics.

I haven’t captured Judge’s financial acumen and recognized trial skills.  Straight out of law school, he secured his first legal job working at the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.  District Attorney George Van Hoomissen learned Judge was in the top of his class at Lewis & Clark Law School and wanted him for his staff. From the beginning of his legal career as a deputy DA, Judge was trying cases. Every subsequent professional opportunity offered to him came about because of his ability to try a case well. He became an associate at Morrison & Bailey because the DA told Bill Morrison that Judge was a good trial lawyer. Five years later, Judge’s trial skills so impressed opposing counsel Jack L. Kennedy that he approached Judge and asked if he was interested in forming a partnership—thus began Kennedy & King. In 1984, deemed a trial lawyer “unquestionably and eminently qualified” and the best in his state, Judge was nominated and inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1984, a membership of which he was exceedingly proud.

Judge Ed Leavy, Carra Sahler, and Judge Garr King in 2012

Judge knew he wanted to be a trial judge because of his experience trying cases in the District of Oregon. As Judge said in his oral history, “Being a federal judge is one of the best jobs you can have in the legal system.”  In fact, Judge often likened his job to getting paid to eat ice cream. I’ll miss Judge’s masterful trial skills, his common sense, and his genuine kindness, but above all I’ll miss his contagious love for his work. And when I eat ice cream, I’ll think of him.

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