At one point during Adrienne Nelson’s short career at Student Legal and Mediation Services at PSU, a woman came to her distressed and looking for help obtaining spousal support for her son. The woman was working toward her master’s degree, had just gone through a divorce and was now the sole caregiver for her recently disabled son.
When Nelson was able to help the woman find that spousal support, it confirmed for her the importance of the work she does.
Nelson was appointed as a Multnomah County judge in March, and in her new position she hopes to impact lives in the same way that she did at Portland State.
Nelson, who worked as the coordinator and senior attorney for Student Legal and Mediation Services at PSU for a year and a half, said she thinks that in her new position she can still have a positive impact, just in a different way.
”I have sent people to prison every week, but it doesn’t mean it has to shape their lives in a negative way,” Nelson said. “No matter what the result is, you can treat people with respect and dignity.”
At 39, Nelson is the youngest Multnomah County judge and the only African-American judge in the state. She is the second African-American woman to be appointed to the bench in Oregon’s history.
Nelson graduated from the University of Arkansas with a double major in criminal justice and English and has a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. It was after her freshman year that she decided she wanted to be a lawyer and pursue a career in legal services. She came to work in the PSU Office of Student Legal Services in June 2004, with a background in both criminal and family law, and experience as a public defense attorney.
Before Nelson came to PSU, she worked as a lawyer and remained active in community services.
”It was important to me that I give back,” she said. “I recognize that there is a responsibility for giving.”
Though she was appointed in March, Nelson will be up for re-election in November. Multnomah County judges are up for re-election every six years.
”I am unopposed and the incumbent, so we’re hoping that it’ll be a landslide,” she said.
Though Nelson said the decision to move on from PSU was difficult, she still feels that she is a part of the campus community.
”It was hard. But I knew what an opportunity this was,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m that far away from PSU. I did my formal swearing in at PSU. I feel like PSU is a part of me.”
In her spare time, Nelson enjoys reading, theater, live music and cooking. She is engaged to be married and has a 15-year-old daughter who is a junior at St. Mary Academy.
Shelly Lee, who worked closely with Nelson during her time at PSU, calls Nelson’s work an inspiration.
”She loves the law and she believes in justice, and she believes in treating every person who comes before her the same,” Lee said. “She would work all day, go to committee meetings and community events, and raise a wonderful daughter.”