Judge Michael O’Brien
Court Statement on Racism
“Equal justice under law” is inscribed above the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. Similarly, Oregon’s Constitution of 1857 declared that all are “equal in right.” These ideals, unfortunately, remain far from the reality that Black, Indigenous and other people of color – BIPOC communities – experience on a regular basis in our country.
The Tigard Municipal Court is a local trial court whose caseload consists mainly of traffic violations under the Oregon Vehicle Code. The Court recognizes the long history of unequal justice nationwide and commits to actively redressing that inequity, including but not limited to the following principles and goals:
- It is the duty of all judges to preserve our independence and seek out evidence of bias, conscious or unconscious, at all levels in our justice system. If such biases are revealed, it is the affirmative duty of judges to take prompt corrective measures consistent with Oregon law and the U.S. Constitution.
- All persons with business before the court are entitled to be treated fairly and courteously by judges and court staff. The courtroom experience, whether in-person or virtual, can be highly stressful for many defendants, particularly those from minority cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Judges and staff will make every effort, without regard to race, ethnicity or gender, to facilitate understanding of court processes and produce results that are fair – and perceived to be fair – by all.
- The Court will provide detailed information about court procedures to the general public, in print form and on its website, and seek ways to circulate bilingual information widely within BIPOC communities.
- The Court has the authority and responsibility, in appropriate cases, to ensure that traffic stops by peace officers have been conducted fairly and without bias. By law, these officers are granted wide discretion in making decisions about which persons should be stopped for violations and whether they should be cited for them. While national studies have consistently shown that BIPOC drivers are more likely to be stopped and cited for minor traffic violations, equal justice under law prohibits racial or ethnic profiling in any form.
- The Court recognizes the importance of fines and other sanctions for deterrence and changing driver behavior. Procedures and sanctions for offenses are standardized under Oregon law, though judges have considerable discretion in imposing fines based on aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Mitigating circumstances may include a good driving record and any circumstances described to the court by a defendant or others. Sanctions must be imposed consistently and in a manner that ensures that all similarly-situated defendants are treated the same without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, age or gender.
- Studies show that the economic effects of fines fall most heavily on those in lower socioeconomic brackets, especially members of BIPOC communities. The disproportionate impacts of traffic fines can make it difficult for many BIPOC individuals to provide for their families while meeting financial obligations to courts. To relieve burdens on all persons facing financial distress, and as provided by Oregon law, the Court can offer appropriate adjustments in fines, generous payment agreements, and alternative community service.
- The Court recognizes that it is in the interest of public safety to promote the use of Oregon highways by drivers who are properly licensed and insured at all times. The Court will provide public information and assistance to further that goal and enable defendants to drive lawfully.
The Tigard Municipal Court is committed to uncovering and addressing racial and ethnic animus wherever it may exist at every stage of the adjudicative process. That commitment includes a regular and rigorous assessment of court operations and reviews of our interactions with other agencies and the general public. Judges and court staff will examine their own attitudes for evidence of bias and make any necessary changes.
Future generations will judge Oregon courts by our success, or failure, in realizing these goals. While judges must remain fair and impartial in all cases brought before them, they can be passionate in their insistence on equal justice.
Michael J. O'Brien
Tigard Municipal Court