Robert Koch Wins Pro Bono Appeal at Oregon Supreme Court

Tonkon Torp attorney Robert Koch, Chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group, won a family law appeal in the Oregon Supreme Court involving a child custody dispute for his client.

The case came to Bob’s attention through the Oregon Appellate Pro Bono Program. That program solicits volunteer attorneys to handle appellate cases, selected by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, that involve pro se litigants. Bob was drawn to the case after having worked on family law cases in a child advocacy clinic during law school.

In the case, Bob’s client filed for a custody modification order in trial court after seeing his child at risk of harm, five years after a divorce. The trial court awarded him full legal custody under Oregon’s two-step inquiry, which examines: (1) whether circumstances have changed in a parent’s ability to take care of the child since the prior custody order, and (2) whether it would be in the best interests of the child to change custody.

The trial court’s decision was appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which reversed on the first factor without considering the second. After the client drafted a pro se petition to the Oregon Supreme Court, and the court granted review, Bob joined the case to brief and argue the appeal. Meg Houlihan and Megan Reuther also helped to edit the brief and prepare for oral argument.

In a complete victory for the client, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court’s decision in its entirety, awarding the client full legal custody of his child. Bob had urged the court to bring closure to the custody dispute by resolving all of the issues raised in the appeal rather than remanding the case back to the Court of Appeals.

“It was a joy to work closely with the client and to earn his trust, particularly on a case with such high stakes for him and his family,” shared Bob. “I am thankful to the Appellate Pro Bono Program for such a meaningful opportunity and experience.”

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