D. Joe Willis
For over 40 years, Joe Willis has helped people who own property that the government wants to take for public projects. He has handled well over 1,000 cases, trying many of them to juries and judges in state and federal courts with stellar results.
Joe has been involved in many precedent-setting cases and stays abreast of cutting edge issues in eminent domain and inverse condemnation. He knows the individuals involved in government offices and is able to resolve most cases early on. If a case must be tried to get his client fair payment, he is ready, willing and able to do so. Joe knows how to put together a team of outstanding experts to get top results, including appraisers, traffic engineers, land use planners, builders, developers and relocation benefits specialists. His reputation for trying difficult cases often prompts opposing parties to settle.
Joe has tremendous experience and success in recovering money in inverse condemnation for clients who have been subjected to overreaching government regulations amounting to a taking of their property or freeing them from application of such overreaching rules.
- Dolan v. City of Tigard. Upon remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, I was lead counsel and along with my partner, Jill Gelineau, we tried this case to a jury. Just before we concluded our case, the City initiated settlement discussions, which led to a favorable settlement for the clients. The clients received a substantial money award, a mandatory injunction requiring the City to issue their building permit, all attorney’s and expert fees, and the right to place a plaque in the disputed bike path honoring John and Frances Dolan.
- Ackerley Communications v. City of Portland. Multnomah County intervenor. The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon held that defendant’s billboard ordinances violated the federal First Amendment and struck them down and issued an injunction barring enforcement. Attorney’s fees were also recovered for the client.
- Ackerley Communications v. Multnomah County. The Oregon Court of Appeals held that Multnomah County’s new billboard ordinance (passed after its predecessor failed to pass federal First Amendment tests) failed to pass the Oregon Constitutional protection for free speech.
- Danebo Properties v. City of Eugene. We brought an inverse condemnation case against the City of Eugene, which claimed it had, by drawing a line across a map, placed an old drainage ditch across the client’s property into the Eugene storm water system. The City did not offer to pay the client. The City also demanded the client dedicate a swath of land 60 feet wide for a road the City wanted as a condition to issue a permit to build apartments. Our client did not need or want the road, nor would our client use the road. After some bitter litigation, the City purchased the client’s property for a very good price.
- Bald Knob Land and Timber v. State of Oregon. We sued the State for breach of contract when it canceled a timber cutting contract our client held in the Elliott State Forest. The State claimed it did so because a Northern Spotted Owl was roosting in the vicinity of the sale. The State was very stubborn and we had to sue and try the case. After a long trial in Coquille, we received a reasonable settlement just before the case went to the jury. The client received substitute timber much closer to his mill, which was a very good result. This trial also provided a great lesson in the value of making so-called experts extolling their “science-based rules” answer questions under oath. A real eye-opener.
- State ex rel. Estate of Dorothy English v. Multnomah County. This case resulted in several appellate opinions finally culminating in the Oregon Supreme Court ruling in Mrs. English’s favor requiring Multnomah County to pay the million-dollar-plus judgment we won for her plus attorney’s fees and costs. The Oregonian described this as “Oregon’s best known land use case.”
- Tri-Met v. Balzer Pacific. Tri-Met condemned a key piece of Balzer’s heavy manufacturing property that was a couple of blocks away from its other land and building, which was a unified operation. Tri-Met failed to provide the required relocation services and payments to get Balzer’s heavy manufacturing equipment relocated. After a counterclaim to the condemnation was filed, the trial judge held that Tri-Met could be liable for its failure. The case was settled with Tri-Met paying fairly for the property taken, paying attorney’s and expert’s fees, and providing over a million dollars in relocation payments.
- Tri-Met v. Aizawa et al. Tri-Met condemned a sliver of land across a common area in a large condominium complex. The individual unit owners had an individual interest in the common area. Tri-Met offered each a very small amount (some were a few hundred dollars). The case was settled very well for the owners for much more than the offers, plus attorney’s fees and expert expenses.
- ODOT v. Evergreen Country LLC. ODOT condemned an easement in front of the property to build a sound wall that would have cut off all visibility to I-5 at the Woodburn Interchange. We raised a defense to the taking, which included the position that ODOT violated its own rules for having a sound wall there. After concluding an evidentiary trial to the Court, we were able to settle by ODOT agreeing that no sound wall would go in front. ODOT agreed to put the sound wall in back of the property and paid the client fairly for the easement taken, plus all attorney’s fees and expert fees.
Memberships & Awards
- Pacific Legal Foundation, Chair Litigation Committee and Trustee
- Uniform Law Commission from the State of Oregon, Life Member
- Owner’s Counsel of America, Emeritus Member
- Owner’s Counsel of America, Crystal Eagle Award (2016)
- Best Lawyers in America Award, Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law (2007-2022)
- Recognized by Oregon Super Lawyers numerous times.
- Highest possible rating by Martindale-Hubbell®.
Resources & Ideas
- Best LawyersAugust 19, 2021
- August 20, 2020
- August 15, 2019
- September 4, 2018
- August 15, 2018
- August 15, 2017
- August 19, 2016
- February 16, 2016
- September 24, 2010
Seminars & Speaking Engagements
- Crowne Plaza Portland - Downtown Convention Center, June 9 & 10, 2016
Guest Lecturer, University of Oregon School of Law, Topic: Article 5, UCC
Speaker at numerous Annual Eminent Domain seminars, most recently the 9th Annual Event
- The BulletinFebruary 14, 2021
- Rotary Club of Greater Bend, Member
- Gifting Committee, Rotary Club of Greater Bend, Member
- University of Oregon School of Law Board of Visitors, Past Member and Past Chair
- University of Oregon Alumni Association, Member
- University of OregonBachelor of Science degree (1969)
- University of Oregon School of LawJuris Doctor degree, Order of the Coif; Associate Editor, Oregon Law Review (1971)
Oregon State Courts
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit
United States District Court, District of Oregon
United States District Court, Western District of Washington
United States Supreme Court
Outside The Office
- Family comes first; next are my Oregon Ducks and then a bit of golf and some fly-fishing.