No new trial in $1 billion Oregon timber
A judge will not order a new trial or overrule a jury’s verdict
awarding $1 billion to local governments that sued Oregon over
logging restrictions on state forestlands.
Last November, 13 Oregon counties and multiple taxing districts
within them won more than $1 billion in a class action lawsuit
that claimed Oregon wasn’t sufficiently harvesting timber from
property they’d donated decades ago.
Attorneys for Oregon argued the judgment should be overruled or
that a new trial be ordered due to legal errors and because the
jury’s verdict wasn’t adequately justified by evidence.
Linn County Circuit Judge Thomas McHill has denied those
motions, saying “most if not all” the issues raised by the state
government had already been ruled upon before or during the
Nothing raised by Oregon’s attorneys after the verdict has
demonstrated a “substantial chance of prejudice” that would
warrant re-trying the case, he said.
The judge has entered a judgment in the case with an interest
rate of 9% per year on the $1 billion award.
An Oregon Department of Justice spokesperson said the state
government will appeal the judgment.
In Oregon’s request for a new trial, the state argued that
“sovereign immunity” should have blocked the lawsuit and that
counties are subdivisions of the state government that can’t sue
it for damages.
According to Oregon, the state government also did not enter
into a contract with the counties that required logging revenues
to be maximized.
Even if such an obligation did exist, the plaintiffs failed to
prove that Oregon violated it, the state’s attorneys argued.
Oregon’s attorneys also claimed the judge committed procedural
errors during the trial, such as barring the state government
from offering certain evidence.
In the complaint, the counties alleged that Oregon has fallen
short of maximizing timber revenues due to a 1998 rule change
that emphasized managing for environmental and recreational
factors of the forestland’s “greatest permanent value.”
More than 600,000 acres of forest properties were foreclosed
upon by counties after the Great Recession in the 1930s and
donated to Oregon for management, with the understanding that
some of the logging revenues would be returned to local
John DiLorenzo, attorney for the county plaintiffs, said that
his clients face “no downside” in the litigation while the State
of Oregon’s potential financial liability will accumulate by
more than $260,000 per day.
“If we ultimately lose — all appeals and everything else — we’re
no worse off than we are now,” he said.
Oregon engaged in quite a few settlement negotiations with the
plaintiffs before the trial but so far there’s been no
indication that Gov. Kate Brown is willing to resolve the issue,
“I think this is something that certainly warrants their
attention,” he said.
Counties don’t have control over how the forestlands are managed
but the state government must still compensate them for
breaching its contract, he said.
“They created endangered species habitat on purpose when the law
imposed no obligation for them to do so,” DiLorenzo said of
Oregon’s forestland management practices.
However, DiLorenzo said that Oregon still has “flexibility” in
managing its forestland that could figure into an eventual
“If they want to propose something, our door is open and we’re
willing to listen,” he said.
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