By editorial board • 

Legal ‘victory’ not a success for everyone

Lawsuits are like genies: Be cautious with your wishes, as they’re rife with unanticipated consequences.

That could be the moral of the story behind the $1 billion a jury in Eugene awarded last week to 13 Oregon counties that believed they’d been cheated out of state timber revenue.

While the verdict was no doubt applauded in those counties, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of Oregon.

Think of it as suing your spouse.

You won. Hooray.

But unless you’re planning a divorce, money for the settlement is all from the same source. Everyone suffers — you, your spouse and any children who happen to share your household.

And it gets worse.

The $1 billion award is the largest in Oregon history. And while state officials proceed with an appeal that could ultimately move to the Supreme Court, interest is accruing. So every year the case remains under appeal adds another $96 million to the potential tab to Oregon taxpayers.

“The ramifications to the state’s budget could conceivably be catastrophic,” state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who co-chairs the Joint Ways and Means Committee, told the Eugene Register-Guard.

The plaintiffs — Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Washington counties — could reap windfalls ranging from $94 million in Washington County to $332 million in Tillamook County. But all we get here in Yamhill County, or other counties not on the receiving end, is an increased financial burden.

The lawsuit undeniably addressed an injustice.

Burdened with timberland that had been logged bare or laid waste by wildfire, the plaintiff counties turned it over to the state with the understanding state officials would not only restore it to commercial use, but also share the resulting revenue at harvest time. However, expert witnesses testified three-quarters of the money often went to just three counties, and even then had to be shared with local schools, ports, libraries and fire districts.

Obviously, that wasn’t fair. Then again, neither is it fair that we are among counties that may have to spend millions helping fund the settlement instead of education and other local services. In point of fact, even the plaintiffs will have to foot some of the bill, chipping away at their own victory.

Injustice plus more injustice does not somehow magically equal justice. There must be a better way to modify the formula.

Unfortunately, the time for all concerned to sit down and reason together ended when the litigation started. Now there will be no winners, just varying degrees of losers.


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