Oregon’s Supreme Court got down to business Tuesday without Paul De Muniz, the man who had served as chief justice for nearly six years. De Muniz, 65, retired Monday, leaving behind a court far different than the one he found when first elected to it in 2000.
It was De Muniz, prompted in part by state budget problems, who oversaw a move to electronic case filings and other uses of technology that allowed the state court system to reduce the number of employees needed to get the job of justice done.
And it was De Muniz who led a remarkably united court after years marked by varying degrees of tension among its members.
Yet, in some ways what De Muniz did before sitting on the Supreme Court is every bit as remarkable as his later career has been.
De Muniz was in no small part responsible for the work that brought justice to Santiago Ventura Morales, a Mexican migrant worker wrongly convicted of murder in 1986.
Not long after Morales’ conviction in Clackamas County, jurors on the case began having second thoughts about it, finally taking their concerns to The Oregonian and other news outlets in Oregon and nationally. Morales appealed and lost.
That’s when De Muniz got involved. He began work on what would become a civil post- conviction relief petition, a last-ditch and seldom successful chance to have the case overturned because the state violated Morales’ constitutional rights.
De Muniz could not see the case to its conclusion, but he worked tirelessly on it until his appointment to the state Court of Appeals in 1990.
He also testified as an expert on Morales’ behalf, and despite the 99-1 odds, Morales won. He later went to school at the University of Portland and today is a social worker in Woodburn.
As chief justice, De Muniz will be remembered in part as a top-notch administrator.
As a lawyer in private practice, his work for Morales made him a standout.
His involvement in international legal matters continues today. That’s not a bad record for a young man from Portland who became the first in his family to graduate from college.
Oregonians have benefited from De Muniz’s hard work, clear thinking and principles since he first was appointed to the bench.