Prior to the legislative session, ACLU agreed to represent an attorney who was threatened with being held in contempt of court under two laws first approved in 1862. ORS 20.160 and 20.170 provided that a plaintiff’s attorney can be held personally liable for a cost bill awarded against the attorney’s client if the client is an out-of-state resident.
Normally, if an attorney represents an Oregon plaintiff and loses, the defendant can recover costs (such as filing fees, transcript and copying charges) against the plaintiff. If the plaintiff fails to pay, the defendant can pursue that claim only against the plaintiff. However, if an attorney represents an out-of-state plaintiff who fails to pay the cost bill, instead of pursuing the plaintiff, the defendant can pursue the plaintiff’s attorney personally.
We believed this law was unconstitutional, and we challenged it on behalf of an attorney whose client failed to pay an $800 cost bill awarded to TriMet. Instead of pursuing the plaintiff, TriMet pursued the plaintiff’s attorney.
Since litigation can take years and success is never guaranteed, we also decided to ask the Legislature to repeal these laws. Although there was no legislative history left from the 1860s, it’s reasonable to speculate that the reason for the law almost 150 years ago was the difficulty a defendant had in pursuing an out-of-state plaintiff. With a modern court system and the ease of following a plaintiff across state lines, the justification for the law no longer exists.
ACLU introduced SB 404, which repealed these two laws and allowed us to dismiss our current case once the bill became law. SB 404 passed and the court has since dismissed TriMet’s attempt to recover costs from the attorney.
WIN: PASSED INTO LAW
Passed Senate: 24-3
Passed House: 38-6
**Scorecard Vote – Senate & House