Murmurs: Court Packing Time for Gov. Kate Brown

In other news: Lauderdale hosts soiree for Johnson.

COURT PACKING TIME FOR GOV. BROWN: When Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters announced her retirement last week just two years into a six-year term, the move signaled a wholesale restocking of the bench. It’s one that will accelerate if Republican Christine Drazan wins the Nov. 8 governor’s race, because Democrats are eager to minimize Drazan’s potential impact on the courts. Although judges are nominally subject to election, the governor retains the constitutional power to fill vacancies. Judicial retirements have allowed Gov. Kate Brown to appoint more than 100 new faces to state courts, including six justices to the seven-member Oregon Supreme Court. Walters joins fellow Supreme Thomas Balmer, who announced Oct. 3 he’d retire at year’s end, also four years short of his term’s conclusion; and Justice Adrienne Nelson, who is moving up to the federal bench. When Brown fills the three vacancies on the top court, she’ll likely pull from the 13 judges on the Oregon Court of Appeals and the circuit courts, creating additional vacancies. Upon Balmer’s retirement announcement, Brown signaled she was preparing to make a slew of appointments, notifying previously unsuccessful applicants she would automatically consider them for openings. Oregon Judicial Department spokesman Todd Sprague says the retirements are “not uncommon.”

LAUDERDALE HOSTS SOIREE FOR JOHNSON: Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) has watched her unaffiliated candidacy for governor sink in the polls over the past month. So it was surprising to see an invitation to an Oct. 23 cocktails-and-ice cream fundraiser for Johnson at the home of Pink Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale. Co-hosts included former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, high-powered divorce lawyer Jody Stahancyk and onetime state Sen. Margaret Carter (D-Portland)—all figures sophisticated enough to read poll results that suggest Johnson has no chance of winning and disproportionately takes votes away from Democratic nominee Tina Kotek. Lauderdale, whose band held a 2011 concert to support Occupy Portland and backed former City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, is often aligned with progressives. He tells WW he planned to host an event for Johnson earlier in the campaign, but was busy touring with Pink Martini and organizing a campaign against Portland’s charter reform measure. He says he’s not worried that a vote for Johnson could boost Republican nominee Christine Drazan’s prospects. “There’s no compelling reason for Tina Kotek,” Lauderdale says. “It’s all about fear of Drazan. I’m 52, but I still vote with my heart, not for the lesser of two evils.”

NO CAMPING AT THE ZOO: Mayor Ted Wheeler detailed plans last week to construct three massive sanctioned campsites with capacities of 500 each. The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by state Democrats for whom Portland street camping is an election-year albatross—and skepticism from social service providers who wonder, among other things, where such large encampments could go. One of the sites initially considered, WW learned: a piece of property abutting the Oregon Zoo in Southwest Portland. That idea has already been nixed, the mayor’s office tells WW, because of its proximity to the biggest paid tourist attraction in the state. The zoo, run by regional government Metro, attracts over 1.5 million visitors annually. Another site that’s been discarded for the same reason: a plot of land near OMSI on the inner eastside.

PCEF (FINALLY) SPEAKS FOR THE TREES: In the first two rounds of grants from the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund, precious little money went to planting trees, even though they are a proven technology for removing carbon from the atmosphere and providing shade in urban heat islands. Portland’s best-known arboreal organization, Friends of Trees, got rejected in the first round and won just $95,791 in the second, when PCEF doled out $122 million to other nonprofits. But the group may have better luck in the future. As part of an overhaul of PCEF led by City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, the fund is making tree planting a priority. It’s directing $40 million to “growing an equitable tree canopy,” according to a presentation by PCEF program manager Sam Baraso. A portion of the money would go toward training a tree-planting workforce and building a pool of contractors, according to Baraso’s presentation.

POLICE WATCHDOG ON SHORT LEASH, DOJ SAYS: City officials met behind closed doors Oct. 25 with advocates and federal attorneys to hash out a plan to improve the Portland Police Bureau. The city has been under federal oversight for nearly a decade due to excessive use of force by police officers against protesters and people with mental illness. Now federal attorneys say the city is failing to uphold its side of the settlement agreement signed in 2014. City spokespeople say they cannot comment on the meeting. But Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland says the plan was to discuss whether to appoint a court-appointed monitor to broker a deal, a solution that was urged last year by U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon, who oversees the settlement agreement. That was likely not the only subject under discussion. In a Monday brief, federal attorneys accused the city of undermining the independence of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing, which, according to the brief, has not been allowed to set its own agenda and only recently acquired enough members to reach a quorum. The panel was supposed to be assessing the city’s progress toward compliance with the agreement. “The mayor and his team will continue to welcome feedback and strive to provide helpful support for PCCEP as it carries out its important work,” a spokesman for Mayor Ted Wheeler tells WW.

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