Tonkon Torp litigators won a complete victory at the Oregon Court of Appeals in the ongoing high-profile dispute regarding public access to Oswego Lake. The unanimous ruling, issued on May 3, was delivered with a thoughtful 35-page opinion about the complex intersection of laws pertaining to natural resource access and what municipalities can regulate with regard to natural resource access within its borders.
The appeal was led by trial attorneys Paul Conable and Steven Olson, who have served as legal counsel for the City of Lake Oswego for the entire case, along with former Tonkon Torp partner Robyn Ridler Aoyagi, who was recently appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. The dispute was first argued in 2014 in the Clackamas County Circuit Court, which rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the courts should decide whether or not the entire lake is public. Instead, the court properly recognized the issue framed by Conable and Olson on behalf of the City of Lake Oswego – that the court should focus on the authority of a municipality to regulate natural resources within its borders. This case illustrates that it is not enough for attorneys to simply know the law. They must also be able to correctly identify which questions to pursue in order to frame the scope of a matter and accurately characterize the argument.
"This is a significant decision," said Conable. "It touches on natural resources, the scope of the state's responsibility to provide recreational access, as well as a municipality's ability to make reasonable decisions about allocating public resources regarding health and safety within its borders."