The Hon. Danielle Hunsaker: A Gifted, Humble, and Kind Jurist


By Scott Bradford

For me, there has always been something different about Judge Danielle Hunsaker. In sports, we call it the “it” factor—there is just something different, something special, about the most talented athletes. They are, of course, gifted, but they are also humble or teachable, have an incredible work ethic, respect the history and rules of their profession, and are able rise to any challenge. Judge Hunsaker has that same type of “it” factor.

Judge Danielle Hunsaker at USDCHS 2019 Annual meeting. Photo by Owen Schmidt

On September 19, 2019, Judge Hunsaker’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was sent to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat vacated by Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain when he took senior status. Judge Hunsaker had previously clerked for him. On November 6, 2019, the Senate confirmed her nomination. Judge Hunsaker’s nomination and confirmation to the Ninth Circuit are the culmination not only of her talents, skills, and hard work as a jurist but also of her personal sacrifice and commitment to people, community, and the greater good. Equally important, she has a wicked sense of humor.

Judge Hunsaker and I were young law clerks when we both worked for U.S. District Court (not yet Chief) Judge Michael Mosman. Even then, her gifts and dedication were evident in both her ability to identify and dissect legal issues of various complexity and to thoughtfully and respectfully discuss and write about them. She was comfortable discussing the complex nuances of the law with any of the judges in the most technical terms. At the same time, she could  explain and write about those same complex issues in a plain and simple way that anyone could understand. Best of all, she was a great colleague and friend—always ready to laugh, yet kind, supportive, and warm as we navigated our clerkships and searched for our first “real” legal jobs. Since then, her career and contributions to the community have been nothing but stellar.

Judge Danielle Hunsaker is sworn in by Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain while (l to ) Judge Ed Leavy, Judge Susan Graber, and Chief Judge Michael Mosman look on.

Before clerking for Judge Mosman, Judge Hunsaker clerked for U.S. Circuit Court Judge Paul J. Kelly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. After leaving Judge Mosman’s chambers, she joined Stoel Rives LLP in Portland as a litigation attorney. She left for a short time to clerk for Judge O’Scannlain, then she returned to the firm. Judge Hunsaker later joined Portland firm Larkins Vacura Kayser LLP where she became a partner.  During this time, she was also an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, teaching Oregon pleading and practice, and serving several organizations, including many bar committees, Oregon Women Lawyers, and the Classroom Law Project.  She was a U.S. District Court pro bono law volunteer, a Ninth Circuit attorney representative, and the former secretary and vice president of the Federal Bar Association Oregon Chapter.  On November 9, 2017, Governor Brown appointed Judge Hunsaker to the Washington County Circuit Court, where she served as the chief civil judge and eventually the presiding judge.

Despite her personal and professional successes, Judge Hunsaker has never lost her most important qualities—she loves and respects the law and remains humble, kind, thoughtful, and hard working. Her former law partner, Julie Vacura, put it this way, “Judge Hunsaker is a formidable intellect but also about as down to earth as you will find. She has a keen sense of humor and loves a well-played practical joke. Appearing before Judge Hunsaker, as a federal appellate court judge, I suspect will be both terrifying and gratifying at the same time. She has a true love of the law and thrives on the intellectual challenge of resolving a thorny issue. So, you better be prepared to get in the weeds with her—she will likely know the cases you cite as well as you do.  She is not afraid to decide a hard issue, but she also is capable of seeing it from all angles and fairly considering each one. Your client will be heard and will felt heard.”

Socrates once described the essential qualities of a good judge: “Four things belong to a judge: To hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly; and to decide impartially.” In my experience, Judge Hunsaker possesses all of these. Please join me in welcoming such a gifted, humble, and kind jurist.