Measure 81 and House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2)

Author Subject: Measure 81 and House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2)
Tom L Posted At 00:19:08 04/08/2000

Oregon voters who support open access to our courts must be vigilant this May
because of some last minute, late session shenanigans by the 1999 Oregon legislature.
One day before adjournment, lawmakers passed House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2),
which is designed to give lawmakers the power to limit jury decisions.

"This is a blatant attempt to take away people's right to justice as decided by' 12
ordinary citizens," said Linda Eyerman, President-elect of the Oregon Trial Lawyers
Association (OTLA). "If this law passes, legislators would have The authority to
overturn or overrule nearly any decision made by a jury. This law would limit
individuals' access to justice and to the courts." OTLA is an organization of over 900
plaintiff attorneys that regularly promotes juries and jury service, and supports~open
access to the courts.

Because the legislature sent HJR 2 directly to the May 2000 ballot, Governor
Kitzhaber had no opportunity to veto it. The measure appears to be the Legislature's
way to impose its will on the Oregon Supreme Court. The court, in a unanimous
decision announced Thursday, July 15, declared unconstitutional a law adopted by the
1987 Legislature to limit non-economic damage awards decided 'by juries. Two days
later, on Saturday, July 17, a committee in the State Senate gutted HJR 2, a measure
originally meant to limit nude dancing, and stuffed it with language to allow the
legislature to impose limits on juries and civil justice. The measure passed the Senate
on Thursday, July 22, and passed the House on Friday, July 23, going from concept to
ballot measure in less than a week, hardly. a landmark in deliberative government.

The new measure reads, "The Legislative Assembly by law may impose limitations on
the damages that may be recovered in civil actions." If voters pass this law, it would
practically negate a citizen's right to take a grievance to a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.
The legislature, a highly political body, would have the authority to limit any jury
decision on compensation for pain and suffering, loss of wages or medical bills. In
addition, the pro-big business groups backing the proposal should realize that those
limits could extend to business disputes involving contract disputes, foreclosures,
copyright infringement or real estate transactions.

"Lawmakers are trying to overturn a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court,"
Eyerman pointed out. "Our democracy was founded on separate and equal branches
of government. Now the legislative wants to control the judicial."

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