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Sunday, June 29, 2003

Happy birthday, Judge Goodwin

A spirited group of about 100 friends, family members, colleagues, and former law clerks gathered at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland today to celebrate the 80th birthday of Judge Alfred T. (Ted) Goodwin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Goodwin, who lived in Oregon all his life before moving to Pasadena in the 1980s, was on hand with his wife Mary and children Meg and Carl to accept the good wishes of his ardent fans. Ex-clerks came from as far away as Hong Kong and Tokyo just to be part of the festivities.

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder hit the nail on the head as she praised Goodwin for being "off the charts" on "CPC." These are the three attributes to which the court most aspires: collegiality, productivity, and courage. To these Los Angeles corporate law star Ted McAniff, Goodwin's first law clerk and now a law professor at the University of Oregon, added the three G's: gentleman, generous, good. Other Ninth Circuit judges with accolades for Judge Goodwin included Edward Leavy and Diarmuid O'Scannlain. Among the impressive facts recounted was that Goodwin is apparently the only judge still working who has served on a state trial court, a state appellate court, the federal district court, and the federal court of appeals. Formerly the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit, he may well have more judging experience than any other person alive.

The birthday gifts included the latest issue of Western Legal History, the journal of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society. It contains a series of tributes to Goodwin, including one I wrote on his contributions to the federal tax laws (which need all the help they can get). Only a few copies of journal have yet arrived, including the two given to the judge and Mary, but I eagerly await receiving mine.

The party featured both laughs and tears. Portland lawyer Charlie Adams choked just a little as he told the story of how Goodwin hired him as his law clerk, even though at the time Adams was so disabled from a sawmill injury that he literally had to stand up or lie down throughout his year of duty in the judge's chambers. Decades before the Americans with Disabilities Act told American employers that they must do the right thing, Goodwin instinctively did it.

After the series of scheduled speeches, an open mike coaxed about a dozen walk-ons to the podium; here even the unflappable Goodwin started to get misty. There could have easily been another dozen; you could almost hear the guests playing their own Goodwin anecdotes in their heads as they sat around the birthday cake. So many wonderful stories, none needing any embellishment, about Judge G and the three G's.

If I were to get up and tell my Goodwin story (which I didn't), the main theme would be how knowing him has changed my life. The judge wasn't my first choice for a law clerk's position, and I wasn't his first choice for the job, either. But another, more desirable clerk candidate had jilted Goodwin that year; she was snatched away by another, seemingly more desirable judge on the East Coast. In turn, that East Coast judge jilted me. Goodwin and I met for a wonderful interview in San Francisco, and once our respective recent rejections and common journalistic backgrounds were on the table, I think we both realized we could be a great match. I had never been to Oregon before, nor had he ever hired a guy from Newark, but we both took a chance, and the rest is history, good history, for me.

The plan was for me to come to Portland for just a year, to clerk for Goodwin; then I was to head down to L.A. to work for McAniff's firm. But I loved Oregon immediately, and ironically, a year later, I was putting down roots here while the judge transplanted his main base of operations to Southern California.

The story could go on and on. The clerkship was the most memorable of any job I've had so far, and the judge earned a lasting place in my heart. It's 25 years later, and I'm still here, loving my Oregon home. I look around with gratitude to him for so much of what I've got.

I'm not alone in this regard. Last night, about 30 or so of his former law clerks gathered at a cocktail party, and although we mostly didn't know each other, we discovered that we had all had the same great experience, at the rate of two or three clerks a year. A lot of the judge has rubbed off on us, and the world is a better place for it. A sizeable number of us are now teaching in law schools, and so one never knows where the Goodwin influence will stop.

A genuine eastern Oregon cowboy -- he still has a place in Sisters -- the judge today received a large framed print of perhaps the most famous photograph ever taken of him. It was back in the early '70s, when National Geographic did a spread on the then-largely-unknown province of Oregon. The theme was how different it was out here, and as an example, NG ran two pictures of Goodwin: a little quarter-page black-and-white shot of the judge in his robes on the Oregon Supreme Court (his thumb marking a place in a volume of the Oregon Revised Statutes, as I recall); and facing that, a full-page color photo of him roping a calf at a rodeo in Prineville. His smiling face is perfectly framed in the lasso loop -- none of which had to be staged, of course, because that was "Tex" Goodwin's life, and a cowboy he remains to this day. (Of course, the gift was of the latter photo.)

One of the speakers at the party was Sid Lezak, legendary former U.S. attorney for Oregon. Sid noted that when he ran a Google search for Goodwin, he found so many rants about the judge's decision on the Pledge of Allegiance last summer that it was hard to dig through them to find anything else.

Let's change that, starting right here. Happy birthday, Judge Goodwin, and thanks for everything.

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