The Malheur trials certainly involved a range of unique features not seen before in the District of Oregon. Because the issues surrounding the armed occupation were hotly contested and received tremendous publicity, it was an unprecedented challenge for Judge Brown, the court’s jury administrator, and all trial counsel to find enough potential jurors who hadn’t already formed opinions about the case. Judge Brown worked with counsel and the jury administrator to develop a series of multiple screening questionnaires for more than 1500 potential jurors to complete and for court and counsel to consider before bringing any jurors to the courthouse for a voir dire process to seat 12 jurors and 8 alternates.
Moreover, 26 defendants all initially wanted a “speedy trial” and at the same time. With so many people to accommodate, a courtroom was remodeled to expand the well so that each party had enough space to sit with their trial team. In turn, there was much less space for the public to attend and observe in person. An “overflow” courtroom was created with a live video feed so that the public and press could observe in real time what was going on in the courtroom where proceedings were taking place.
Once a jury was impaneled, a partial-sequestration plan was developed that kept jurors’ identities “anonymous” to insulate them from outside contacts and that included a transportation plan to drive jurors into and out of the courthouse in a manner that would protect them from unnecessary exposure to ongoing protests outside the front of the courthouse. Through it all, Judge Brown recalls, “There were countless issues around the law that applied to the underlying theories; there were almost-daily challenges to whether I had taken the proper oath when I first swore in as a federal judge and whether the court had any power over the defendants; there were issues of first impression being raised that never arose in other criminal cases; and providing a safe environment for all concerned posed many serious and unrelenting challenges. In sum, these trials were logistically and substantively the most difficult of my career.”
The first Malheur conspiracy trial lasted from September 7 to October 27, 2016. The seven defendants were acquitted. Four more defendants went to jury trial in 2017, but they were all convicted (and their appeals remain pending). Although the government dismissed charges against one defendant, the remaining 14 defendants pled guilty to various charges.
Senior Status and Ongoing Service
Judge Brown assumed Senior Status as a U.S. District Judge on July 27, 2017 and continues with substantial judicial service. In October 2017, in a ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court, she was recognized as the 2017 recipient of the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Ninth Circuit. On May 19, 2018, Lewis & Clark Law School awarded her an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in “recognition of her distinguished service to the People of Oregon.” In March 2019, the Oregon State Bar Litigation Section honored Judge Brown with its Owen M. Panner Professionalism Award. In May 2019, her judicial portrait was unveiled along with an additional panel of photos that she requested. It shows her judicial lineage as the first woman to follow the six previous judges who served in Judicial Position No. 2. Judge Brown inspired the formation of Oregon Women Judges, a collaboration with other volunteers seeking to preserve the history of Oregon women who have served in the state or federal judiciary. She is also the first judge in the District of Oregon (that we know of) who knits for other judges.
The U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society thanks Judge Anna J. Brown for all the ways she creates and preserves history.