Malcolm F. Marsh: A Judicial Philosophy of Kindness–Lifetime Service Award 2020


By Kelly A. Zusman

The U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society is pleased to honor Judge Malcolm F. Marsh with its 2020 Lifetime Service Award. This article is based on his 2005 oral history and many conversations with Judge Marsh.

Judge Malcom F. Marsh in Chief Judge Owen Panner’s chambers after being sworn in, March 1987.

He was the “baby” judge in 1987. It had been seven years since President Jimmy Carter had appointed the trio:  Judges Owen Panner, Helen J. Frye, and James A. Redden. Judge Robert Belloni and Jim Burns were the senior judges, and the district of Oregon had just three U.S. Magistrate Judges at that time:  William Dale, George Juba, and Michael Hogan. Judge Malcolm Marsh had been appointed just a little over a year before I began working for him in January 1989 as his law clerk. According to an ill-conceived Oregonian poll published just a few weeks before I arrived, Marsh was the most popular judge among Oregon lawyers. His cohorts ribbed him, suggesting that his honeymoon glow with the bar would not last. They were wrong. Although he no longer maintains chambers, at age 92 he remains an active part of the lives of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who know the judge as “Grandpa Malcolm.”

Prior to taking the bench, Malcolm Marsh had spent 33 years in courtrooms trying cases, defending Volkswagen and various insurance companies. He worked with some of Oregon’s best lawyers who became his partners and lifelong friends:  Ned Clark, Eric Lindauer, and Al Menashe. Marsh was a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a prestigious, invitation-only group that required 100 completed trials even to be considered for membership. And he was inducted the year he turned 50.

Unlike other lawyers, however, Marsh paid close attention to the judges in those trials. With the mind of an engineer (and a brilliant wood worker) and accomplished chess player, Marsh studied courtroom dynamics. He knew what a good judge looked like, and he knew what a holy terror a bad judge could be. His desire to become a judge grew from that study:  he wanted to become the judge he wanted to see in the courtroom. He wanted to do the job in the way he saw that it could be done:  with a sensitivity to the stresses faced by trial counsel and their clients, and with a mission to improve the practice and foster the development of young lawyers. Particularly young lawyers of color and women. Kindness to the lawyers, litigants, jurors, and court staff is his enduring legacy.

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