McHill brings varied experience to the Linn County Circuit bench

Sean C. Morgan

Tom McHill is bringing three decades of widely varied legal experience to the bench when he joins the Linn County Circuit Court in January.

McHill, a partner in Morley, Thomas and McHill, LLC, of Lebanon, has worked in law for 29 years, he said.

“It’s never boring, but it’s time to move on and try something different for awhile.”

He won the election in November in his second bid for Circuit Court. He lost to Carol Bispham in 1998 and said he believes that “if anything I’m more prepared now than I was then.”

McHill said being a judge is “almost an extension” of being a lawyer and that he has identified characteristics he likes to see in trial judges.

As an attorney, he likes a judge who has tried many cases of many different kinds and someone who stays on an even keel, someone who doesn’t get overexcited, McHill said; and he believes that he possesses these qualities.

He is looking forward to “being able to offer services to the community as someone I’d want to have listen to my case,” he said.

McHill grew up in Hillsboro and Beaverton and was surrounded by the law at home. His father was a parole and probation officer, and his mother was an attorney who, during the 1970s, became the first female judge in Washington County.

After Willamette University, he attended law school at the University of Puget Sound, now at Seattle University.

McHill said he became interested in law for a number of reasons.

“When I started in law school, it was the late 70s,” he said. “People were going to law school because that’s what they thought they should do.” Even though it sounds corny, he says, he wanted to help people.

“It turns out, you do impact people,” he said. He recalled an encounter after losing the 1998 election. He ran into a couple while out shopping, and they told him how much they appreciated his help and that they had voted for him.

He couldn’t place them at the time, but it turned out that he had handled a custody case, he said. The couple had named one of their children after him.

“It’s a good feeling, and it’s good to be able to help people,” he said.

“I’m greatly humbled by this whole experience,” McHill said of his election to the bench. “The faith the community has placed in me is humbling.”

At Willamette University, NcHill met his wife, Eileen, who was from Lebanon.

“We came back here (Lebanon) because I like small towns,” McHill said. His hometowns had grown and are all but merged into Portland.

“I got a job here in 1981,” McHill said. “This is going to be the first new job I’ve had in 30 years.”

While in law school, he worked in the district attorney’s office in Tacoma. For about a year and a half, he tried cases under supervising attorneys.

After earning his law degree, he went to work in the office of Bill Thomas, Eileen’s father. The following year, 1982, Eileen went to work at at Sweet Home High School, where she continues to teach Spanish.

McHill started out as a defense attorney in a number of criminal cases, he said. Later he handled workers compensation claims.

He has handled a broad variety of types of cases, from criminal to divorce and property, he said. He has been in courts from Roseburg to Portland.

In December 1988 he was appointed Lebanon city attorney after Glenn Baisinger became a judge on the Circuit Court. Ironically, he is filling a vacancy left by the retirement of Baisinger from the court.

As city attorney, he advised the Lebanon City Council and Planning Commission, and he represents the city in litigation. He also is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in the Lebanon Municipal Court.

Attorneys in his firm assisted with city business, he said. “It’s good experience for young lawyers.”

The McHills raised three sons and a daughter in Lebanon.

Their daughter Courtney is pastor at the United Methodist Church in McMinnville. She previously served at the United Methodist Church in Corvallis for four years.

Son Grant, a UCLA graduate in communications, works for Cumulus Radio in Eugene, reporting sports and calling games for KUGN. He was the boys freshman basketball coach at SHHS last year.

Head Coach Kostanty Knurowski helped him get a job as head coach at Springfield High School this year. McHill has helped his Grant call basketball games on air.

Son Andrew is a graduate student studying integrated physiology at the University of Colorado. He graduated from Gonzaga University.

Son Colin is a sophomore majoring in elementary education at George Fox University in Newberg.

McHill has been involved in the community in numerous ways. He served on the Lebanon School Board for two terms. He was on the elementary school board for about three years before unification.

He served on the boards of Willamette Valley Rehabilitation, the Willamette Manor and the Boys and Girls Club of Lebanon. He is a member of the Rotary Club. He has served as peer court judge. He was Lebanon Junior First Citizen in 1993.