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Lane County lawyer-politician eyes Supreme Court.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

Could Oregon wind up with a Justice Roberts of its own?

On the same day that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. was sworn in, former Oregon Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts confirmed that he is considering a campaign for a seat on the Oregon Supreme Court.

Roberts, 52, has built his public-service career in politics as a moderate Republican - serving as a Lane County commissioner and as Oregon's labor commissioner before running an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2002. He currently is executive director of the Eugene-based Lane Metro Partnership, a job-growth advocacy group.

With that experience, combined with two degrees in law and 10 years of practicing law in Eugene, Roberts said Thursday that the open seat next year has him contemplating whether his background might make him a good fit for the bench.

Chief Justice Wallace Carson is retiring after his term expires next year, presenting a rare open seat on Oregon's high court.

Roberts said Carson's departure would leave the court without what he called "broader elective experience" for the first time in 30 years. Carson previously had served in the Legislature, but the six other justices moved from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court after careers as lawyers and in many instances, stints as judges and law professors.

"Maybe it is time for someone else to run who can connect with the public at large, rather than just an infighters' game among lawyers," Roberts said.

Roberts said he hopes to decide by the end of next month whether to run, although he said he may hold off on a decision until year's end.

Should he choose to campaign for the job, history suggests Roberts could be a formidable candidate. Politicians-turned-Supreme Court justices have included Betty Roberts, Ed Fadeley and Berkeley Lent.

Asked what might cause him to decide against running, Roberts said he might step aside if a qualified woman entered the race. "It's 2005, and we have no women on the Supreme Court. That's just disgraceful," he said.

Roberts said his political experiences would stand him in good stead on the bench.

As a Lane County commissioner, he was involved in several quasi-judicial land-use appeals, and as state labor commissioner Roberts played a part in rule-making and signed final orders in cases involving complaints that civil rights and wage and hour rules had been violated.

Before joining the Lane County board in 1989, Roberts practiced law for a decade, representing individuals and small businesses. He earned a law degree from the University of Oregon and the equivalent of a master's in tax law from New York University.

The only candidate to file for the seat being vacated by Carson is Eugene Hallman, a Pendleton attorney. Roberts is one of two prominent names that have circulated in recent days on political Internet sites as possible Supreme Court candidates. The other, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, has said through a spokesman that he won't be joining Roberts on the campaign trail.

"The attorney general is very pleased with being attorney general and will not be seeking the soon-to-be-vacant Supreme Court seat," spokesman Kevin Neely said.

Two other high court seats also are up for election next year. Both are held by current justices, Paul De Muniz and Robert Durham, who have filed for re-election and so far have drawn no challengers.

Supreme Court justices are nonpartisan positions with a term of six years. If a candidate gets a majority in the May election, he or she is declared the winner. Otherwise, the two top vote-getters from May would appear on the November ballot. In either scenario, the winner would take office in January.

Roberts' name was an issue when he ran for state labor commissioner in 1994 - with some observers speculating that "Roberts" was familiar to many Oregonians because of the political household in Portland that included former state Sen. Frank Roberts, his first wife, Betty Roberts, second wife Barbara Roberts, who served as governor, and daughter Mary Wendy Roberts, who was state labor commissioner when Jack Roberts unseated her that year.

Jack Roberts joked that Thursday's headlines - the swearing in of Chief Justice John Roberts on the U.S. Supreme Court - was "a chance to piggyback on the same name identification."

Should he campaign for an Oregon Supreme Court seat, Roberts said he would follow Chief Justice Roberts' approach during his own confirmation hearings when it comes to reconciling past statements and actions in the realm of politics and public policy with his approach to deciding cases from the bench.

"I agreed with what he said," Jack Roberts said. "It would not be my job to impose my personal views on the law. It's my job to uphold the law and to interpret the law."
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Title Annotation:Politics; Former Oregon Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts may run for the position to be open when the chief justice retires
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 30, 2005
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