From the classroom to the court

PSU professor runs for Lane County circuit court judge

This week, a Portland State professor may be elected to public office—and under highly unusual circumstances.

PSU professor runs for Lane County circuit court judge

This week, a Portland State professor may be elected to public office—and under highly unusual circumstances.

Courtesy of christine desermeaux

Philosophy professor Vincent Mulier is running for the open judge spot in the Lane County Circuit Court.

Philosophy professor Vincent Mulier is in the running for the position of judge on Lane County’s circuit court, but he has only been campaigning for five or six weeks.

“It’s a very unlikely situation, and I’m a very unlikely candidate,” said Mulier, a self-described progressive with a penchant for social and environmental justice.

Because the incumbent judge did not file paperwork in time for his name to appear on the ballot, what would have been an uncontested race is now wide open.

The result? Not a single name appears on the ballot for Lane County’s circuit court judge, leading to a last-minute write-in campaign with five candidates, including the incumbent, vying for the position. Mulier was the first challenger to throw his hat into the race, with three additional candidates following suit.

“I’m kind of the underdog,” said Mulier, who has launched a grassroots campaign of knocking on doors and distributing campaign literature. “I think I’m going to appeal to informed, progressive voters.”

Whether credited to a twist of fate or circumstance, the opening was a rare one for a candidate like Mulier.

“Under normal circumstances, my chances of being appointed as a judge, or winning an election for judge, would be quite small,” said Mulier, who is also a criminal defense attorney. “Most local bar associations are dominated by pro-business, pro-prosecutor establishment lawyers who make sure that progressive lawyers such as myself are excluded from the appointment and election process.”

As far as Mulier knows, he is the only current candidate for circuit court judge in the state of Oregon with a doctorate in philosophy.

The common thread between being a professor, an attorney and a judge? “Ethics and the law,” Mulier said.

Mulier, who teaches classes ranging from “Environmental Ethics” to “Philosophy of Sex and Love,” wrote his doctoral dissertation on a philosophical model for salmon restoration.

“I think he provides students with an antidote to the perception that philosophy is an ‘ivory tower’ sort of discipline, removed from politics and society,” adjunct philosophy professor Ken Kirby said. “To him, philosophy has to engage in social criticism and provide a basis for progressive activism, making things better for all.”

Before this position opened up, Mulier had never seriously considered running for public office. But he sees a seamless transition from the classroom to the court.

“As a philosophy professor, I’m studying the philosophical basis of right and wrong,”
Mulier said. “As a defense attorney, I’m defending people who have been accused of doing wrong. And as judge I would have a tremendous amount of responsibility to make sure that the law is correctly applied.”

Mulier is most inspired by his grandfather, who was a county judge in Lake County, Calif., and his legacy of exercising compassion in the courtroom.

“It led him to be kind and generous to all people, even those accused of awful crimes. At the same time, in all his rulings, my grandfather stayed as close as possible to the letter as well as the spirit of the law,” Mulier said.

Mulier also credits his time in the classroom with preparing him to be a judge, comparing the dynamics of the court and the classroom.

“Judges, like professors, are the center of attention in the room. They usually have loud voices, they get to bang that gavel,” Mulier said.

“Teaching at PSU has been a part of my intellectual journey that has prepared me for being a judge,” Mulier added. “When you teach something, you learn it.”

According to Mulier, the incumbent and a former municipal judge are the probable favorites in the race.

“The word is out there. People know about my campaign. I’m kind of amazed, really,” Mulier said, adding that he won’t be heartbroken if he doesn’t prevail. “I think I have a reasonable chance.”