Senior County Attorney Patrick Henry named as Circuit Court judge

October 1, 2015

Patrick Henry in his office where he has been an assistant county attorney for 17 years.

The Senior Assistant County Attorney was plowing through paperwork in his Multnomah Building office last Wednesday when his cell phone buzzed. Salem. A number he didn’t recognize.

“Pat Henry,”’ he said.

“Patrick Henry? This is Kate Brown.”

Oregon’s governor was calling to appoint Henry, 53, to be the next Multnomah County Circuit Court judge. It was only the second time they’d spoken, and came after the governor’s office had conducted months of interviews, shortlists and deliberations.

Henry, who has spent most of his adult life working with people buffeted and broken by crisis, paused as the governor’s offer sank in. Relief, excitement, and a bit of anxiety rocketed through his mind.

“I’d be honored.’’

Henry is scheduled to be sworn in on Oct. 16, 2015, becoming one of 38 judges serving in Multnomah County and one of 10 presiding in family and juvenile court. He replaces Judge Paula J. Kushner, who is retiring.

Family court is the front line of modern interpersonal conflict, with its flashpoints of domestic violence, custody disputes, child abuse, restraining orders, civil commitments and divorce.  Henry has more experience with turmoil than most.

“We are thrilled to have someone with Patrick's deep experience in working with families,  vulnerable populations and probate issues  joining us our bench,’’ said Presiding Judge Nan G. Waller. “Patrick will bring a respectful, problem-solving approach to this role which will benefit our community.”

A career in Human Services

As general counsel to the Department of County Human Services, Henry has been the legal arm of the Aging, Disability, and Veteran Services Division, the Mental Health and Addiction Services Division, the Domestic Violence Coordination Office and the Developmental Disabilities Services Division. He saw his job as working to improve the community and county’s response to people who are in crisis and need of services.

“Patrick upped our game. His advice and review made us better able to respond to the difficult situations our clients face and he always erred on making decisions to support the people we serve,’’ said Liesl Wendt, director of the Department of County Human Services.

As an attorney, he tried dozens of cases for the county, conducting investigations by the public guardian and into adult care homes, defending the county against tort claims, serving as the county’s lead on health reform and navigating the state and federal mazes of contracting, business associations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, public records rules and licensing law.

He also reviewed hundreds of cases of people harming one another, serving on the Interagency Committee on Abuse Prevention, the Law Enforcement/Adult Protective Services Multidisciplinary Team, and the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team. In 2015, he spearheaded the new law allowing county attorneys to seek civil penalties against people who physically or financially abuse the elderly or disabled residents.

“Patrick was a key member of our county team and he always, always, had the public good as his priority,’’said Joanne Fuller, Health Department director and former director of the Department of Community Justice and County Human Services. “There were times, I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but I always paid attention.  He made a difference.’’

A patriot by any other name

All things being equal, it is easier to live in Oregon with the name Patrick Henry than in Washington D.C. where he grew up. He was not, as his fellow Virginians supposed, named for the Virginia patriot who proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death,’’ but named instead for his grandfather, the son of an Irish immigrant who studied the law and died young. Henry's father was a civilian employee for the Navy, his mother a math teacher. As the second of seven children in a competitive, athletic clan, he entered the University of Virginia anxious to earn his way. He earned a degree in environmental science and geology.

After graduation, at a dean’s urging, he began teaching earth science and geology at a high school in Fairfax, VA. He loved the students and school community, but found himself absorbing more and more of the Catholic school’s lessons on social justice and service. After two years, he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps taking an assignment at a day shelter in downtown Tacoma.

Henry had never never been west of Chicago. Nonetheless, he moved in with other Jesuit volunteers, living on a stipend as he worked to provide meals, clothes and respite for people who were homeless because of mental illness, drug addiction and abuse. At the time, HIV/AIDS was ravaging injection drug users and the gay community. Violence between the HIlltop Crips and Bloods was at a crescendo. It was gritty, stressful work and he loved it.  He went for a one-year assignment and stayed three.

People who’ve served as Jesuit volunteers say “you’re ruined for life,’’ by the experience, Henry said.  “You don’t see people with the same eyes again,’’ he said. You can’t paint someone with a brush as just a street person, or as a prostitute.You come to know each person is  unique and in many cases, has a beautiful story of who they were.’’

“Their lives were filled with hardship and pain,’’ he said, “but they were capable of immense kindness and generosity. That was eye-opening: that people with very little could give so easily, and could be so generous.”

Increasingly frustrated by his limited power to get results on his clients’ behalf, Henry applied to law school, choosing the University of Notre Dame for its focus on ethics and public policy. While there, he became a Thomas J. White Scholar and the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy. He also became a father. He had married fellow Jesuit volunteer Mary Ann Henry whose family still farms outside of Canby, Oregon.

A move west to better serve

The couple was looking around the country for law firms that allowed new attorneys to also take on public service work when he found Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Portland. As a litigator, he obtained a settlement on behalf of Latino tenants who had been who had been evicted by owners who had recently acquired the apartment complex in which they resided. He obtained another settlement against an insurance carrier who had denied coverage for a Latino family who had been wrongfully accused of torching their own home.

In 1999, at a mentor’s urging, he joined the Multnomah County Attorney’s Office, where in addition to his human service work, he is known for his play. For more than a decade, Henry has played indoor soccer every Wednesday with a scrum of city and county legal types.

As news of his appointment spread, reaction was bittersweet.  “The governor’s decision speaks to the caliber of attorneys at Multnomah County and to the incredible work of Patrick Henry,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “I will miss his clear thinking and  sound advice. But I am thrilled that he is taking on such an important role for the families of this county.”

On Wednesday, after his “humbling’’ conversation with Gov. Brown, Henry telephoned his wife, Mary Ann, who is a chaplain at Providence Health & Services’ Connections,  an in-home care for people with life-limiting conditions. Then they called the kids,  ages 23 through 17.  Joe, who works with CODA Recovery Center, J.P., who is teaching at a legal charter school for African American kids in Chicago, Rachel and Ruth, who are students at Georgetown University, and Kate, a senior at De La Salle North High School. All are also deeply involved in service projects.

“Mary Ann and I are fortunate to have such wonderful kids who share our concern for people who are less fortunate than us,” he said.