In April 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Oregon’s non-unanimous jury rule in Ramos v. Louisiana. As explained in the opinion, the origin of the non-unanimous jury rule was overtly racist: the Ku Klux Klan and others in Oregon made efforts to dilute “the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities on Oregon juries.” The impact of Ramos was immediate for criminal defendants whose convictions were not yet final. But hundreds of others, having been convicted of serious crimes by non-unanimous juries, remained behind bars in Oregon.
Shortly after the ruling, Professor Aliza Kaplan, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) at Lewis & Clark Law School, developed the Ramos Project as a statewide pro-bono initiative providing legal assistance to those seeking redress. Each post-conviction relief case must be adjudicated individually, requiring an immense undertaking to bring justice to those impacted. In July 2020, attorneys and staff at Tonkon Torp eagerly joined the effort to help affected defendants; to date, the firm has taken on 11 Ramos clients and three clemency clients, in addition to filing two amicus briefs on behalf of local nonprofits. Five partners, nine associates, three paralegals, and seven staff members have volunteered hundreds of hours of pro bono time.
Rocky Dallum, a partner in Tonkon Torp's Government Relations & Public Policy Practice Group, joined the Ramos effort in early 2021. His goal was to help lobby the Oregon legislature to take the action needed to retroactively vacate eligible cases. On November 15, attorney Danny Newman testified before the Oregon Senate Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation, explaining the history of Ramos and why Tonkon Torp and other local firms agreed to take on these pro bono efforts. Danny stressed the importance of granting swift, collective retroactive relief to everyone with a non-unanimous jury verdict.
The bill as proposed by its supporters has been filed as SB 1511 for Oregon’s 2022 regular legislative session. Anyone seeking to support these efforts can voice their support of the bill to their legislators. For more information, read Danny’s testimony, and learn more about Tonkon Torp’s efforts with the Ramos Project.