A Founding Friend: Clerk of the Court Robert M. Christ 1927 – 2019

By Adair Law

Robert M. Christ (rhymes with wrist), a lawyer, court administrator and lifelong Portland resident, died in his sleep May 31, 2019. He was at the founding of the U.S. District Court Historical Society in the summer of 1984 and became its first executive secretary. He served as Clerk of the Court 1971-90 and worked with four chief judges: Judges Robert Belloni, Otto Skopil, James Burns, and Owen Panner.

Clerk of Court Robert Christ. He was also a found member of the USDCHS. Photo courtesy of Tom Christ.

Bob’s father Mladden Christ (1895-1965) emigrated from Macedonia in 1910 and the people of Bob’s mother Anna Zehiko (1900-85) came from the Ukraine via Edmonton, Canada to the United States. Mladden met Anna at a dance at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in North Portland. The couple married during the 1918 flu epidemic with five people in attendance, including the priest.  With the flu epidemic raging, gatherings of more than five called for special permission.

The Christs had two sons, Theodore, born in 1920 and their son Robert born in 1927.  Mladden owned a newsstand and confectionery store on West Burnside at 23rd Avenue. Bob did a variety of jobs there and learned early lessons in treating a variety of people with courtesy and warmth.

 A proud graduate of Portland’s Jefferson High School and the Lewis and Clark Night Law School, Bob also attended the University of Oregon. He passed the bar in 1954 and worked as a deputy district attorney in 1955. He married his wife Jeanne Santini, a nurse from Montana, that same year. They had five children together.

In 1962 Bob joined the firm of Dusenbery, Martin, Beatty, Bischoff & Parks and worked with them for several years. He succeeded George Juba as Clerk of the District Court when George Juba became Oregon’s first U.S. Magistrate Judge. On Jan. 6, 1971 the Oregonian announced, “Juba to become 1st Magistrate, Christ to Fill Court Clerk Post.”  Both men were were sworn in on Jan. 13, 1971, then together they took their wives out to dinner.

On taking up his new job, Clerk of the Court Christ was faced with a 900-case backlog.  Judge Gus Solomon went on Senior Status in September, and Judge Alfred Goodwin was elevated to the Ninth Circuit in December, which left Judge Robert Belloni as the primary active federal judge in the district. Judges Otto Skopil and James M. Burns would not join the federal bench until June 1972. By necessity, Magistrate Judge Juba was quickly trying civil cases and engaging in far more expansive activities than other federal magistrates around the nation.

As a recently practicing trial lawyer, Bob double and triple booked cases for a given judge as they neared trial, knowing that many would settle the closer they got to trial. Bob also helped attorneys realize that trials could occur more quickly if they would consent to have them heard by Magistrate Judge Juba. Bob’s innovations were effective and veteran and rookie judges worked to diminish the backlog.

Clerk of the Court Robert Christ and USDCHS Board member Katherine O’Neil observe a District Court of Oregon history display in Portland’s federal courthouse in 1988.

 Bob was active in the Federal Court Clerks Association and served as president of the association in 1983. During his time as Clerk of the Court he witnessed the change from manual to electric typewriters and then to computers.  During the course of his job, he had some unusual opportunities for signing certificates for some family members.  After Bob’s father died in 1965, Bob realized with some shock that because of changes in naturalization laws at the time of her marriage, Anna Christ was not actually a U.S. citizen.  Not having finished grammar school, she was concerned about her capability to complete the studies to become a citizen, but she persisted and her son’s name is on the signature line of her citizenship papers. As it was for all lawyers who sought to practice in U.S. District Court for Oregon during Bob’s tenure as clerk,  Bob’s name is also on the certificate authorizing his son, Tom Christ, to practice in his court.

Bob was an unfailingly cheerful presence at bench and bar events, annual picnics, and annual dinners.  His funeral was held June 29, 2019, and his family thoughtfully requested that donations in his memory be made to Boys and Girls Aid or to the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society.  We will miss this longtime supporter and friend.

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