Kristina Hellman was born in Portland, Oregon in 1975. She grew up in a middle class family and was always academically gifted. Hellman attended Grant High School, where she graduated valedictorian of her class in 1993. She was involved in student government, serving as senior class president, and was also a star athlete on the school’s track team.
Hellman went on to attend Stanford University, majoring in political science. She graduated magna cum laude in 1997. At Stanford, Hellman was active in campus politics and progressive causes. She served as president of the College Democrats and organized voter registration drives. Hellman also volunteered at a women’s shelter and interned with a legal aid clinic assisting low-income families.
After Stanford, Hellman went on to earn her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2000. She excelled academically and was an editor on the Yale Law Journal. Her professors took note of her sharp intellect and meticulous research skills.
Clerkships and Private Practice
After graduating from Yale, Hellman clerked for Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. This prestigious clerkship gave Hellman exposure to federal appellate cases. After her clerkship, Hellman worked as an associate at the Portland law firm Garvey Schubert Barer from 2002 to 2005. There she handled complex civil litigation cases, honing her legal writing and oral advocacy skills.
District Attorney’s Office
In 2005, Hellman joined the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office as a deputy district attorney. She quickly gained trial experience prosecuting felony drug cases and assaults. Then in 2008, Hellman was promoted to chief deputy district attorney. In this role, she supervised all the daily operations and oversaw 30 attorneys.
Hellman prioritized prosecuting domestic violence cases and crimes against women and children. She increased conviction rates by building stronger cases and working closely with victims. Hellman also implemented new diversion programs to rehabilitate first time non-violent offenders, showing her nuanced approach to criminal justice.
Oregon Court of Appeals
In November 2020, Hellman was elected as a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals. She ran a low-key campaign emphasizing her broad legal experience and bipartisan support. Hellman won the open seat handily, becoming the first openly gay judge to serve on the Court of Appeals.
Hellman has won her elections by wide margins, helped by her nonpartisan approach. In November 2022, Hellman won re-election to the Court of Appeals, defeating a primary challenger by capturing 98% of the vote. She ran a frugal campaign and declined to accept donations. Hellman enjoys broad support across the political spectrum thanks to her moderate judicial philosophy.
Hellman has authored over 100 opinions covering a range of civil and criminal matters. Some of her more notable rulings include:
- Jefferson v. Oregon – Hellman wrote the majority opinion upholding the convictions of environmental activists who blocked the entrance to a logging site. Her ruling provided clarity on the balance between free speech and criminal trespass.
- Oregon v. Hayes – Hellman dissented in this case, arguing the police unjustly targeted minorities in a drug sting operation. Though her side did not prevail, the dissent brought attention to potential biases in law enforcement.
- Anthony v. City of Salem – Here Hellman ruled that city zoning policies violated the rights of disabled residents under the ADA by not reasonably accommodating their needs. Her ruling forced changes in city planning.
Overall, Hellman has shown pragmatism and restraint in her rulings. She evaluates each case on its particular facts and legal merits, avoiding sweeping pronouncements. This approach has earned her respect as a consensus builder on the appellate court.
Political Views and Positions
Hellman supports balanced criminal justice policies. As a former prosecutor, she understands the need to punish serious crimes. But Hellman also believes in rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration where appropriate. For example, she started diversion programs as Chief Deputy DA. Hellman has ruled against police overreach in some appellate cases, showing her nuanced perspective.
Hellman believes climate change is a serious threat demanding action at all levels of government. She supports policies to reduce carbon emissions, promote renewable energy, and incentivize sustainability. Hellman considers environmental protection part of the government’s public health responsibility.
Hellman opposes the privatization or transfer of public lands to states or corporations. She believes public lands provide great value to all Americans and should be protected for future generations. Hellman has ruled in favor of access to public lands for recreational use in several appellate cases.
Hellman is a strong defender of reproductive rights and access to abortion services. She rejects abortion restrictions she sees as limiting personal freedom and endangering women’s health. Hellman’s views are informed by her work with women’s rights groups over many years.
Hellman supports Medicaid expansion to make healthcare accessible to more low-income Americans. Her rulings as an appellate judge have favored a broader interpretation of Medicaid eligibility to cover more people in need. Hellman believes healthcare is a basic human right.
Hellman resides in Portland with her partner of over 15 years, Erin Campbell. They have an adopted son named Dylan who is now 10 years old. Hellman met Campbell at a fundraising event in 2008. Hellman is very protective of her family’s privacy but they are reportedly very close and supportive of each other. Hellman sometimes mentions how her partner and son keep her grounded outside of her judicial responsibilities.
Hobbies and Interests
In her limited free time, Hellman enjoys running, reading historical fiction, and doing yoga. She likes to run 5 miles every morning to clear her head before a long day on the bench. Hellman is also a bit of a vinyl junkie, collecting classic jazz records. She tries to go to Portland’s famous jazz festival when she can sneak away. Hellman also loves to travel, particularly to National Parks, to enjoy the outdoors and scenic beauty.
Legacy and Impact
As the first openly LGBT judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, Hellman has been a trailblazer. She has mentored many young LGBT lawyers and law students. Hellman’s presence on the bench shows the progress made in overcoming discrimination. Though humble, she takes pride in playing this groundbreaking role. Hellman has won numerous awards from LGBT rights groups.
Hellman has emerged as one of the Court’s preeminent consensus builders. She has an ability to get all sides to yes through careful deliberation grounded in the facts and law. Hellman displays remarkable patience and persuasiveness when working with her colleagues on the most divisive cases. Her pragmatic approach leads to durable rulings.
While collegial, Hellman also adheres closely to the text of laws. She avoids going beyond statutes or reading into their meaning. This textualist approach provides stability and predictability in Hellman’s rulings. She handles each case incrementally, avoiding broad pronouncements. Hellman’s textualism exemplifies judicial restraint.
Hellman has had an immense impact already in her short time on the bench. With her keen intellect, unique experience, and balanced approach, Kristina Hellman’s influence over Oregon law promises to grow for decades to come.
In her pathbreaking career, Kristina Hellman has already made history while building an impressive legacy defined by consensus-building and pragmatic jurisprudence. Her journey from prosecutor to respected appellate judge reflects Hellman’s broad experience and nuanced understanding of the law. A consensus builder on a divided court, Hellman places principle over partisanship in her meticulous rulings. Through hard work, intellect, and moderation, she has emerged as a giant on the Oregon Court of Appeals with even greater contributions still to come. Hellman provides an inspirational example of integrity, commitment to justice, and passion for the law in service to society.
Q: Where did Kristina Hellman attend law school?
A: Kristina Hellman graduated from Yale Law School in 2000. She previously earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford University.
Q: What was Kristina Hellman’s career before becoming a judge?
A: Hellman worked as a law clerk, attorney in private practice, and prosecutor in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. She served as Chief Deputy DA prior to joining the bench.
Q: How long has Kristina Hellman served on the Oregon Court of Appeals?
A: Hellman was elected to the Court of Appeals in November 2020. She assumed office on January 19, 2021, so she has served on the court for around three years as of late 2022.
Q: What is Kristina Hellman’s judicial philosophy?
A: Hellman is generally seen as a pragmatist and consensus builder on the appellate court. She adheres closely to interpreting the text of laws and handles cases incrementally. Hellman avoids sweeping pronouncements in favor of narrow rulings grounded in precedent.
Q: Is Kristina Hellman affiliated with any political party?
A: No, Hellman is a nonpartisan judge. She has won her elections with broad bipartisan support thanks to her moderate views and restraint. Hellman declined to accept campaign donations in her 2022 re-election bid.