Judge in key salmon rulings is retiring

Judge James Redden has relentlessly demanded more from government attorneys trying to limit what must be done to protect salmon on the Columbia River.

Judge James Redden has relentlessly demanded more from government attorneys trying to limit what must be done to protect salmon on the Columbia River.

U.S. District Judge James Redden announced this week that he will retire before the fourth attempt to craft a federal plan for Columbia Basin salmon is due on Jan. 1, 2014. Redden is 82; he joined the federal bench in 1980, and appointee of President Jimmy Carter.

Redden migrated to Oregon in 1955 after growing up in Springfield, Mass., where he practiced law after Army service at the tail end of World War II. He is an experienced lawyer in two states, but his career was in public service.

Redden's persistence has cheered advocates for Columbia River salmon and angered supporters of dams on the river system. Redden was named to the bench in 1980 and for the last decade has been heavily involved in litigation over salmon on the endangered species list; earlier this year he rejected a third federal attempt to craft a salmon plan acceptable to the judge.

Retirement of the affable Redden brings to a close an active political career that began in 1963 with election to the Oregon House from a Medford district in southern Oregon. A Democrat, Redden served in the House until 1969, including a term as minority leader. He later served as State Treasurer from 1973076 and as Attorney General from 1977 to 1980.

Reddens legacy will be his tenacious battle to protect salmon and force federal agencies to live up to the legal requirement of the Endangered Species Act. But Redden was not a fisherman or even an outdoorsman; in all his years in politics, I cannot recall a photo of Redden with a fishing rod in hand, somewhat of a prerequisite for those seeking office in Oregon.

What I do remember about Jim Redden was his unparalleled skill as a legislator and negotiator and, most of all, his irrepressible sense of humor. Redden was the Mo Udall of Oregon, a man who refused to take himself seriously but never used his wit to cut down an opponent. His humor saved many a day during tense legislative debates, and gave him ways to open up dialogue across party lines.

During the Tom McCall era in Oregon, Redden played a major role in crafting an acceptable bill to save Oregon's beaches from lockouts by private owners; McCall got most of the credit, but Redden did a lot of the heavy lifting.

In 1974, Redden ran for governor, but I sensed his heart was not fully in the race, which was the strongest Democratic primary in state history. Former State Treasurer Bob Straub won, and Redden finished third. Straub went on to defeat Republican Vic Atiyeh, but four years later Atiyeh reversed that result and Straub served only one term.

Ironically, both Redden and the runner-up to Straub wound up on the bench. Second-place finisher Betty Roberts became the first woman on the Oregon Supreme Court, and Redden went to the federal bench. Both carved out a legacy, Roberts for breaking the gender barrier and for her work to advance women in politics, and Redden for his work on salmon.

It was a role no one would have expected for Redden, although he was a fine lawyer; he always seemed to be a natural politician and social animal, not suited for the life of a judge. I hope he is well and ready to share some judicial as well as political stories —with humor of course.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Floyd McKay

Floyd McKay

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades.