Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

November 3, 2000

GEORGE A. VAN HOOMISSEN'S retirement from the Oregon Supreme Court in January 2001 will rap the adjournment gavel on a distinguished career of public service dating back nearly 50 years to when he was a United States Marine Corps officer in the Korean War.

Associate Justice Van Hoomissen was first elected to the state's highest court in 1988 after serving nearly eight years on the state's second-highest tribunal, the Oregon Court of Appeals, winning his seat there by election. His judicial career began in 1973 when Republican Governor Tom McCall appointed the Portland Democrat to the Circuit Court bench in the Multnomah County Courthouse. When Van Hoomissen, at age 70, completes his swan-song term on the Supreme Court, he will have worn the black robes of an Oregon jurist for almost 28 years. For the nearly 20 years he's sat on the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, he's commuted to the Salem-based courts from his home in Portland.

A native Oregonian, Van Hoomissen was born in Portland in 1930. He grew up on the city's north side with two brothers and four sisters. Their father, Fred, was a member of Plumbers Local 51 and a delegate to what was then called the Portland Labor Council and today is the Northwest Oregon Labor Council. Fred Van Hoomissen's brother, Phil, was a business agent for Steamfitters Local 235. Today, Locals 51 and 235 are part of United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 290. George had a cousin, Jerry Van Hoomissen, who grew up to become a popular band leader and president of Musicians Local 99.

AFTER GRADUATING FROM Central Catholic High School, where he played varsity tennis, and the University of Portland, George Van Hoomissen was commissioned as an officer in the Marines and served in the Korean Conflict as an intelligence officer with the First Marine Division and its Air Wing. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Air Medals and several unit citations. After the war, he continued serving in the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring several years ago with the silver eagles of a full colonel.

Upon returning from the war, Van Hoomissen obtained a law degree from the Georgetown University School of Law in Washington, D.C., then worked in the mid-1950s as a law clerk to Chief Justice Harold J. Warner of the Oregon Supreme Court before returning to Georgetown for an advanced law degree. He next was employed as a Multnomah County deputy district attorney from 1957 to 1959. He was elected in 1958 to the Oregon Legislature as a north Portland state representative and was re-elected in 1960. He left the DA's office for a private law practice while in the Legislature, where he chaired the House Judiciary Committee and served on the Oregon Constitutional Revision Commission.

VAN HOOMISSEN WON election as Multnomah County district attorney in 1962, defeating an incumbent, and was re-elected in 1966 and 1970. In his years as DA, Van Hoomissen hired a number of deputy prosecutors who went on to become judges, law professors, and DA. In 1968 he ran as the Democratic candidate for Oregon secretary of state, losing a narrow race to the Republican incumbent, Clay Meyers. Van Hoomissen left Portland in 1971 to accept an appointment as the first dean of the new National College of District Attorneys at the University of Houston School of Law in Texas. There he taught future state and federal prosecutors from across the United States. He was in the running to become the chief prosecutor in the Watergate scandal but lost out to a lawyer with tighter political connections. Van Hoomissen decided to return home to Portland after two years in Texas. He found that he enjoyed teaching, and over the years has filled part-time professorial assignments while sitting as a judge. He's taught at a number of institutions, including Portland State University, Northwestern School of Law in Portland, Willamette University School of Law in Salem and his alma mater, Georgetown. He also took time in 1986 to obtain an advanced degree in judicial process from the University of Virginia School of Law.

Active in a number of civic and professional organizations, Van Hoomissen has held the presidency of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Oregon Appellate Judges Association, the Oregon District Attorneys Association, the University of Portland Alumni Association, and also has volunteered his time to other groups. He's listed in "Who's Who in America" and "Who's Who in American Law."

JUSTICE VAN HOOMISSEN displayed judicial independence by dissenting from his colleagues when the majority recently voted to free a convict on death row on the technicality that the prosecution had denied him a speedy trial. The inmate had been found guilty of aggravated murder in the 1989 rape and slaying of a three-year-old girl. His trial did not start until nearly five years after his arrest because of pre-trial appeals by the Clackamas County district attorney's office and the state attorney general's office involving a judge's ruling to suppress certain evidence. Another factor was the death of the investigating detective several years after the suspect's arrest. Van Hoomissen dissented from the majority opinion because he thought while some of the delay could be criticized, it was not of constitutional dimensions and the majority's remedy, overturning a murder conviction, was too severe.

In earlier years, Van Hoomissen wrote majority opinions upholding the rights of public employees and injured workers.

FOLLOWING HIS RETIREMENT from the Supreme Court, Van Hoomissen plans to open a private practice as a professional mediator. To that end, he's taken mediation courses at the law schools of Harvard, Willamette and the University of Washington, plus classes offered by professional associations.

As a family man, Van Hoomissen has been married for 40 years to the former Ruth Niedermeyer. They have four children, George T., Ruth Anne, Madeleine and Matthew.


A PERSONAL NOTE: I've known George Van Hoomissen since the 1950s when we were both ambitious young men, he as a young deputy district attorney and I as a young reporter for the pre-strike Oregonian assigned to cover county government at the Multnomah County Courthouse. I soon realized that he was an exceptionally talented man with high principles who, I once predicted to him, would one day be elected governor. Instead, his career took him to the judicial branch of government, and Oregon lost the chance to elect a governor who would have been one of the state's finest chief executives.


REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL candidate George W. Bush attacks "Washington bureaucrats" in his campaign harangues. Does the smirky Texas governor's denigrations of people who work for the federal government in the District of Columbia include his father? George H. W. Bush was for many years a "Washington bureaucrat" in appointive and elective posts. To refresh "Shrub's" memory, Papa Bush served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as vice president and as president, to mention three of the senior Bush's "Washington bureaucrat" jobs.


Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.