By Dan Thenell
The U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society notes with great sadness the passing of U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Hubel on September 16, 2019. We look forward to posting an extended article in the future based on his oral history.
Denny, to his friends and Judge to me and my co-workers, was a trial lawyer’s judge. He followed the law, he treated participants in the judicial system with intense fairness and was never unprepared. Judge Hubel was appointed as a part-time U.S. magistrate judge in 1995, while a partner at Karnopp Petersen in Bend, Oregon. He moved to Portland’s Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse when he assumed full-time status in 1998. I was honored to work as Judge’s first full-time law clerk, a job that shaped and influenced my entire legal career.
Judge Dennis J. Hubel was my first boss, my earliest mentor, and an amazing example of what the legal profession and judiciary should be. I met Judge Hubel in the summer of 1996, as a recent U of O law graduate who wanted to move home to Central Oregon. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Sutherland recommend that I network with Judge Hubel to survey the legal market in the area. Since I was not a top ten-percenter, the thought of a federal law clerkship was not on my mind. Yet one day Judge Hubel called me and asked if I was interested. A fraction of a second later, I learned that I was starting work while I was still studying for the bar. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I am forever thankful.
From a social security disability appeal to a complex patent litigation, Judge worked hard to do the right thing in each of his cases. He could not fathom getting something wrong, once keeping the two of us in chambers well past midnight the night before trial, working to perfect preliminary jury instructions and other trial documents. His work ethic was second to none. He outworked every lawyer who appeared before him. His formidable legal mind was influenced, I think, by his background in electrical engineering and his time in the U.S. Navy. Judge Hubel reminded me frequently how important it was to treat staff and co-workers well. I have a memory of him once saying, with a slight grin, that the non-attorney staff was far more important than the lawyers and law clerks. That lesson has stayed with me for over twenty years and is a cornerstone of my firm today.
As a part-time U.S. magistrate judge in Bend, Judge Hubel participated in the early years of the national Tribal Courts Project. He covered the federal first appearances from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, hearing misdemeanor cases that the tribal court could not hear because they fell into jurisdictional “gaps.” Chief Judge Michael Mosman graciously shared a story about his first appearance before Judge Hubel. Then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Mosman was vacationing in Central Oregon and got word that an initial appearance was needed in Warm Springs. From the collective wardrobe of his fellow vacationers, he cobbled together long pants that were not jeans, shoes, and some sort of sports coat. He could find no socks. While Judge Hubel noted the AUSA’s wardrobe, he did not let Mosman know he was aware of his sockless state until after court. Chief Judge Mosman remembers Judge Hubel as a judge who could not be moved by outside pressure and regardless of who you were, would tell the truth. He always did what he thought was right.
I spoke to Judge’s longtime friend and former law partner, Ron Roome. Describing him as a mentor, dear friend, and devoted father, Ron shared stories of his days as a young associate doing revision after revision of pleadings until they were perfect. He remembers Judge Hubel’s active and dry sense of humor. This humor was most apparent when telling war stories about cases and other lawyers. Ron recalls the judge as a superb tactician, always thinking several moves ahead of other lawyers. His favorite Judge Hubel story follows. During one of Judge Hubel’s Civil Violations Bureau dockets, two Central Oregon tree cutters were cited in court for cutting down a tree that did not meet minimum size requirements. Judge allowed the two accused to bring a wheelbarrow into the courtroom that contained one of the rounds from the allegedly undersized tree. They were acquitted.
Longtime Clerk’s Office employee, Christy Weller, offered this great tribute. ”I began working for Judge Hubel as his courtroom deputy in 1995. Judge Hubel was always kind and gracious to his staff. On one occasion I had to travel to Prineville, Oregon for a winter trial. I was driving my own car and Judge Hubel was driving from Eugene to Prineville later in the day. I slid off the road in the winter conditions and my car became stuck in a snowbank. As I was getting out of my car to survey my situation, Judge Hubel pulled up behind me, jumped out of his truck in a suit with a shovel in hand, and had sandbags at the ready in the back of his truck. He dug my car out of the snow and then pushed me back on to the road, all the time wearing his suit. Over the years I traveled to Bend to work for Judge Hubel when he would cover the CVB docket. We always laughed about my mishaps in the snowbank and he always assured me that he was there to help me no matter what the situation was. Judge Hubel was a wonderful judge to work for and a true friend.”
Kathleen Bartholomew, another former courtroom deputy, shared this story. “One of the most fortunate, random circumstances to affect my working life was that the time I was ready to apply for the position of courtroom deputy happened to coincide with Judge Hubel’s need for one. It was in March of 1998. That first year was undeniably difficult—lots of six-day weeks and a steep learning curve. It would come as no surprise to anyone who knew the judge that by the end of that first year, I had learned not just the ins and outs of case management, but also what true preparedness and attention to detail looks like.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to sit in front of Judge Hubel during court proceedings. He approached every one of his cases with the utmost integrity and care. His judicial demeanor was impeccable. All parties in our proceedings were treated with equal care and respect. In short—I was very proud to act as his deputy in court.”
Judge Hubel will be dearly missed by the many people he impacted and worked with along the way. I am forever grateful for getting to spend three years working for him and learning so much. Rest in peace, Judge.