From Whizbang to the Federal Bench and the “Best Saddle in the Arena”: Celebrating the Remarkable Life of Judge Owen M. Panner (July 28,1924– December 20, 2018)

By U.S. Senior District Judge Anna J. Brown and U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke

The remarkable life of U.S. Senior District Judge Owen Murphy Panner was celebrated on June 1, 2019, at the Panners’ horse arena in Medford, Oregon, under sunny skies illuminating a verdant vineyard, lush pastures, and a snow-capped Mount McLoughlin. As guests took their seats, the District Court’s own Rick Galarneau and Houston Bolles shared their considerable talents from a flat-bed truck stage to provide musical background that Judge Panner would have loved.

Owen Panner, ca. 1960, Aspen Valley Ranch in Post, Oregon.

They opened the celebration by leading everyone in “America the Beautiful.” On behalf of Nancy Panner and all of Judge Panner’s family, U.S. Senior District Judge Anna J. Brown welcomed over 200 guests from around the region. As she introduced the speakers, Judge Brown stressed that Judge Panner was still presiding from “the best saddle in the arena,” and all agreed to be brief or risk her use of the cow bell in her hand to signal violations.

Oregon’s Chief District Judge, Michael W. Mosman, noted Judge Panner’s core mission as a judge was to help people resolve disputes, which he did in two main ways. First, he always did what he thought was right, regardless of public opinion, lawyers’ preferences, or even what might happen on appellate review. Second, he was famous for tightening up cases to avoid what he thought were unnecessary delays. For example, when Mosman tried a serious criminal case before Judge Panner as a prosecutor, Judge Panner required Mosman to introduce his case agents’ testimony by entering their written statements into evidence, “saving” all the time that would have been used for direct examination and allowing Judge Panner to move sooner to the next case that needed resolution. Indeed, Judge Panner loved working at the courthouse so much that he continued doing so until just three weeks before his passing.

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