I had been on the job for about a year in 1978 when I got an assignment that got my juices flowing. I worked as a general assignment reporter for the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier.
Then my editor handed me a task. He had heard reports about a Clackamas County district judge that he thought needed attention.
The judge, Robert Mulvey, had been accused by lawyers who appeared in his court of lacking proper “judicial temperament,” which means that he was overly harsh on lawyers, witnesses, jurors and anyone he happened to encounter in the courthouse.
This would be my first investigative assignment for the newspaper. I began talking to defense counsel, prosecutors, courthouse staffers, sheriff’s deputies, fellow elected officials. They all said essentially the same thing: Judge Mulvey was a tough customer.
Indeed, I later found out that lawyers had filed complaints with the Oregon judicial conduct commission, which was empowered to hand down assorted forms of discipline or punishment to judges or lawyers about whom it received complaints.
I was able to talk to some of the legal eagles who had filed complaints against Mulvey.
I compiled a lot of evidence that the concerns that came across my editor’s desk had merit.
Then came the tough part: I had to speak to Judge Mulvey himself to get his side of the story. Fairness required me to do so. I did.
It was fascinating to me then — and it is now as I look back more than 40 years later — that Mulvey was so willing to talk about the accusations that his legal peers had leveled against him. He was a complete gentleman. He answered my questions directly. I don’t recall him denying any of the allegations that others had provided. He did explain himself fully.
I put the story together. It was a highly critical account of the way the judge adjudicated legal matters in the courtroom. It provided a stern look at his conduct and how poorly he treated those who stood and sat before him.
Judge Mulvey took it like a man.
Then came the clincher. Not long after the story saw print, Robert Mulvey died. Then the editor who assigned me to write the temperament story said I needed to call the judge’s wife to get a comment or two about her newly departed husband for a “news obituary” we published about the judge’s death.
My gut churned. I was nervous beyond belief. I called her. Told her my name and why I wanted to talk to her.
Mrs. Mulvey could not possibly have been nicer or more generous with her time.
It was, all in all, an amazing conclusion to an equally amazing task I had performed.