Oregon’s Newest Supreme Court Justice
January 18, 2011
Jack Landau B.A. ’75, J.D. ’80 was nervous when, as a newly minted lawyer, he walked into the office of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Belloni to interview for a clerkship. He sat down, glanced at the judge’s desk, and began to sweat. Staring up at him was an article he’d written for Lewis & Clark Law School’s Environmental Law review—the one that criticized Belloni’s 1969 decision on Indian fishing rights.
“That’s what he wanted to talk about,” says Landau. “I was terrified. I thought I was about to watch my legal career disappear before my eyes.”
Instead, they had a spirited 30-minute debate about the case. “The judge said he found our conversation ‘delightful’ and offered me the job,” he says. “I accepted.”
Almost 30 years later, Landau ran for an open seat on the Oregon Supreme Court, winning the contest with 72 percent of the vote in May 2010. He took the bench on January 3.
Landau’s journey to Oregon’s highest court didn’t follow a straight path. He studied history and psychology as an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark. Then, at the urging of his stepfather, he took several years off between college and law school to learn a trade in his family’s print shop.
During that period, he also dabbled in music. He played guitar and bass in bands that covered hits by the Doobie Brothers and other 1970s icons.
But his most successful gigs, he says, were with his bluegrass band, a group inspired by the music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs of Grand Ole Opry and Beverly Hillbillies fame.
In the late ’70s, seasoned by life experiences, he headed to Lewis & Clark Law School, where he became editor in chief of the Environmental Law review. Although he was initially unsure whether he would practice law, Landau has flourished in the legal and judicial arenas.
In 1983, Landau joined the law firm Lindsay, Hart, Neil & Weigler, where he worked as an associate and, later, a partner. In 1989, he joined the Oregon Department of Justice, where he served as an assistant attorney general and attorney in charge of the Special Litigation Unit, a group assigned to represent the State of Oregon in particularly complex litigation matters. Two years later, he was named deputy attorney general, second in command at the Department of Justice.
Reflecting on his legal career, Landau says that Stevens v. City of Cannon Beach was one of his most rewarding cases. He argued against hotel owners in Cannon Beach who asked that beach access in front of their property be limited to hotel guests.
“One of my most treasured possessions is a note I received from [then–Attorney General] Ted Kulongoski,” he says. “It reads: ‘Whenever I go on an Oregon beach, I will think Jack made this possible.’ I framed it and put it in my office.”
Landau’s stellar reputation led to his appointment by then−Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 1993. He was elected in 2000 and reelected in 2006.
In 2010, in recognition of his career accomplishments, the law school honored Landau with its Distinguished Graduate Award. “I hope that at the end of my judicial career, I’m remembered as a thoughtful judge who could be counted on to give each case a fair and impartial hearing,” he says. “Many people think judges are activists who base decisions on their personal beliefs and politics. That’s not the case.”
When he’s not working, Landau is an avid outdoorsman who loves hiking and cross-country skiing.
“On a cross-country trail an hour and a half outside of Portland, you hear nothing but the sound of clumps of snow falling off the trees,” he says. “It’s serene and beautiful.”
—by Pattie Pace