Obituary of Judge Maurice Keith Merten
After a courageous battle against cancer, Judge Maurice Keith “Maury” Merten passed away on October 31, 2023, in his home, at the age of 78.
Maury was born on May 30, 1945, to Stephen and Hazel (Luukkonen) Merten in Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Jesuit High School in Portland in 1963. After high school, he moved to Eugene, Oregon to attend the University of Oregon. Upon receiving a Bachelor of Science in Law in 1967, Maury went to law school at the U of O, graduating in 1969 and becoming a member of the Oregon State Bar Association. While at U of O, Maury met the love of his life, Bonita “Bonnie” Breazeale. The two were married on June 25, 1966.
After graduation, Maury accepted a job as an Assistant U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. Working with a “strike force” of U.S. attorneys, he helped prosecute cases of organized crime and racketeering throughout the country from 1969 to 1973. In February 1973, the Mertens returned to Lane County where Maury had accepted a job as the chief trial lawyer in the Lane County District Attorney’s office. Maury spent two years and nine months prosecuting major violent felonies for the District Attorney’s office before being appointed to the district court bench as a full-time pro tem judge in 1975. On July 1, 1976, now Judge Merten became Lane County’s fifth permanent District Court Judge. In 1980, Governor Vic Atiyeh appointed Judge Merten to the Lane County Circuit Court bench, where he remained until his retirement in 2020.
Judge Merten was a devoted public servant, serving on the bench in Lane County for a total of 45 years. Throughout his career, he had the reputation of being an incredibly hard worker, a stickler for the rule of law and extremely fair. His memory for caselaw was unparalleled. He was known as an “old school” judge, running his courtroom with dignity and efficiency. He expected lawyers to be prepared and to work as hard as he did. He was notorious for keeping trials moving by starting early, ending late and not taking many breaks. As both a trial lawyer and a judge, Judge Merten had the ability to put witnesses and jurors at ease without sacrificing the traditional legal solemnity of the occasion. Judge Merten believed that mentoring new lawyers was a judge’s duty. As such, he was part of the local bar association’s new lawyer committee for many years, hosting countless legal education programs in his courtroom. Over his 45-year career on the bench, Judge Merten mentored hundreds of new lawyers, including many of his judicial clerks, three of whom are currently judges on the Lane County Circuit Court bench.
In his private life, Maury enjoyed the outdoors. As a younger man, he was an avid fisherman and enjoyed using his drift boat with friends. While in the district attorney’s office, he organized the office’s softball team and was the pitcher. Maury enjoyed hunting birds with his English springer spaniels – Sage, Briar, and Patches. In later years, in the early morning hours of the weekends, Maury would enjoy golfing at Shadow Hills Country Club with friends. Bonnie and Maury enjoyed traveling and went on cruises together across the globe. In the years just prior to his retirement, Maury particularly enjoyed hosting the judges’ summer BBQs around his pool.
Maury is survived by Bonnie, his wife of 57 years. He is also survived by his brother-in-law, Jerry Breazeale. He was predeceased by his parents and his older brother, Michael Merten.
At his request, there will be no formal celebration of life. As Maury believed strongly in the importance of children’s organized sports, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to Kidsports.