Ed Peterson, retired chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, thinks Gov. Kate Brown’s appointment of her general counsel to the Oregon Court of Appeals doesn’t pass the smell test. His is the most prominent voice in a growing chorus asking the governor to rescind her nomination of Misha Isaak, 37, to the appeals court.
Isaak has been licensed in Oregon for only 11 years. He’s never served as a judge, though that isn’t necessarily a disqualification.
What’s unusual, and troublesome, about the appointment, is the way it occurred. Isaak will replace Judge Erika Hadlock, who was appointed to the bench by former Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Generally when a judge steps down from an Oregon court, the resignation is made public and those interested may apply to fill the vacancy. Occasionally, if the timing is right, the vacancy is filled by election, though that’s something of a rarity. In most cases the job falls to the governor. When there is no election a committee of lawyers, and sometimes judges, looks at the applications and interviews the candidates. The group can pick its favorites and forward those names on to the governor’s office.
Very little of that happened this time. Hadlock told the governor she intended to step down, but that information was not made public. Isaak applied, and although there apparently were three other applications, he was the only candidate interviewed. The vetting process was headed by his deputy.
The process, Peterson told Willamette Week, “doesn’t smell right, it doesn’t look right and it is not right.” Coming from Peterson, a judge who has an award for legal professionalism named after him, that’s serious stuff.
Brown, a lawyer herself, should know that, and she should take Peterson’s words to heart. She should announce the appeals court vacancy, follow the traditional method of vetting and choose the best candidate who applies.