Judge John WittmayerMultnomah County Circuit Court Judge John Wittmayer
He doesn't like to be called "judge" when he is not in the courthouse or on the bench, although he understands why lawyers do so. But he thoroughly enjoys his role in the legal system. Judge Wittmayer, who was appointed and subsequently elected to the bench, describes his job as decision maker enjoyable, and feels that his ability to make a decision in matters brought to his court is his most important responsibility. To that end, the ability to do what he feels is right, versus doing what clients want done, being able to be the neutral versus being the advocate, is what he enjoys most about his position. At the same time he has great respect for the members of the bar and stresses that it takes much more work to be the advocate.
He started down the legal path because the father of a good friend was a lawyer. That respect and admiration led to his decision to go to law school. Judge Wittmayer earned his undergraduate degree in political science from Portland State in 1969. Between undergraduate and law school he worked as a Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff. He was a member of the first day-school class of Lewis & Clark Law School, which opened in 1970. The school had also just moved to its new location on Terwilliger Blvd, and his class of about 110 students was the only group on campus that first year. He worked through college and law school as a parking attendant, janitor, health department aide and security guard. He graduated from law school in 1973.
He worked for one year with the US Department of Justice in Washington DC as a trial attorney prosecuting bribery and conflict of interest cases, although he says the work was mostly just paper-shuffling. He then returned to Portland to the Multnomah County District Attorney's office, where he worked for three years. In 1977 he joined with long-time friends Bill Gaylord and Rich Thomas to form their own civil litigation firm emphasizing personal injury litigation, criminal defense and family law. He left that firm in 1981 to join the firm of Mitchell, Lang & Smith where he stayed until his appointment to the bench in 1996.
Judge Wittmayer has been able to work in every aspect of the court - civil litigation, family law and probate matters, is a member of the Motion Panel handling general civil motions, and hears criminal matters on a regular basis. This variety has given him the opportunity to have contact with many diverse members of the bar, which he describes as one of the enjoyable aspects of his work.
His life outside the courtroom revolves around family and church/civic service. He is on the Board of Trustees of Willamette University, has chaired the Board of Trustees of the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church and has been on the board of FISH Emergency Services, Inc., a non-profit social service agency. Before becoming a judge he served as a volunteer attorney for St. Andrew Legal Clinic, Habitat for Humanity and the American Civil Liberties Union.
His advice to both new and old lawyers: "Be on time; be prepared; read and follow the rules." While he recognizes the importance of his own part in the legal process, he also acknowledges that our system functions because people are willing to follow the rules. And he genuinely appreciates and enjoys being part of that system.
Originally authored by Steve Minetto and printed in the July/August 2000 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2012