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)
Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson spoke on behalf of the Owen M. Panner American Inn of Court. In 1983, Judge Panner helped form the Inn, the first chapter in Oregon, and he was a loyal supporter and mentor to Inn members until the end. Justice Nelson read a letter in tribute to Judge Panner from the Executive Director of the National American Inns of Court that praised him for his “commitment to professionalism.”
Sarah Crooks and Marc Herzfeld, two of Judge Panner’s law clerks, shared their perspectives from working with him in chambers. Crooks stressed that Judge Panner kept his law clerks to the same tight timeline he imposed on lawyers because he really believed that “justice delayed was justice denied.” His chambers mantra was “Be Brief,” and he would often tell the law clerks, “Good job, but cut it in half.” Crooks knew lawyers who were supposed to give concise closing remarks were in trouble when Judge Panner turned his chair toward the waste basket and started sharpening his pencil with his pocketknife! Herzfeld fondly remembered Judge Panner always counseled lawyers to “disagree without being disagreeable.” He also emphasized Judge Panner was secure in his thinking, and it could be hard for law clerks to change Panner’s mind. He relayed the story of one former law clerk who cautioned that, “Judge, if you rule that way, you will be reversed.” Judge Panner calmly replied, “Maybe, but NOT by you!” Marc Herzfeld had the honor of working for Judge Panner for 32 years.
Three lawyers who regularly tried cases before Judge Panner shared their memories. On the civil side, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon described Judge Panner as “a trial lawyer’s trial judge” for three reasons: (1) He knew what he was doing, and his rulings were consistent, supported by law, and fair. (2) He loved juries, who he felt did a good job of untangling complicated situations. (3) He loved trial lawyers. This was even when he regularly told trial lawyers he would be happy to grant a request to move a trial date. . . to an earlier one! Judge Simon emphasized Judge Panner’s respect for the appellate process and shared the story of a lawyer who got a favorable ruling from Judge Panner, which was affirmed by the 9th Circuit. The lawyer was pleased to tell Judge Panner the good news, to which Judge Panner replied, “This does not cause me to change my mind. I still think I was right.”
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Fong remembered the ever-present “twinkle” in Judge Panner’s eyes. He recalled personal conversations, including when he asked Judge Panner “What had been the most amazing thing he had seen in his life?” Panner responded that it was his parents, who gave him his faith in God, work ethic, and belief in mankind. Doug saw Judge Panner the day before he died. He was at peace.