Longtime Ashland lawyer and former municipal judge and city Councilor Allen Drescher is retiring at the end of June and is looking back on a rich four-and-a-half decades spent trying to use his legal skills to create a better life for people of the Rogue Valley.
The popular and often jocular Drescher, 70, says he is among the last of his friends to retire and plans, with his wife, Karen, to “do more fun things,” bicycle and cross-country ski and write short stories, such as his book about cats with legal problems, called “Practical Lessons in the Law, Based on Real Life Fantasies.”
His new partner and successor in the practice at 21 S. Second St. is Cheri Elson Sperber, a specialist in Estate Planning, Probate, Estate Administration, Conservatorship Law, and Special Needs Trusts. The practice will be known as Drescher Elson Sperber, P.C.
As municipal judge for 20 years, starting in 1978, Drescher was in the right spot to start a diversion program for both ticketed drivers and youthful drug-alcohol offenders, giving them time to get on track without having to face the full force of the law, or — in the case of drivers — sparing them from increased insurance premiums.
“I was the first judge in the state to do it. Now most of them do,” says Drescher. “It’s a win-win for everyone. Drivers are more careful in diversion. They don’t get their rates jacked up. It works beautifully. With alcohol-drug offenders, they keep convictions off their record and we try to get parents involved in counseling.”
A conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, Drescher did alternative service as a legal aid lawyer in Portland under a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) grant. He worked for poverty wages, as required in the program, then caught a Shakespeare play in Ashland, moved here in 1973 and hung up his shingle, “without knowing a soul here. It was a failure.”
Just emerging from a counterculture life and moving to what he thought was a “straight” little town of Ashland, he and his then-partner Shiela cleaned up their act and got married, soon to have children Joel, now 42, and Sarah, 38.
“I got rid of my beard, long hair and granny glasses,” he reflects with a big belly laugh, “but it all turned out to be unnecessary because Ashland was already there” with a diverse mix that included alternative-looking people.
To get started here, Drescher signed up to be a court-appointed attorney. His most memorable case was defending a black man in a drug case before an all-white jury, a case not likely to be won. Determined, he got a black actor from Oregon Shakespeare Festival as a character witness.
“He made a wonderful presentation, so dignified, with a beautiful stage voice. I knew the prosecution would ask if he, the character witness had ever used drugs, so I had him memorize this, ‘I decline to answer that under the privileges and immunities granted me under the Constitution of the United States of America.’”
The jury was rapt, he notes, and were totally persuaded, but the prosecution objected to him not answering the question. In chambers, the judge told the prosecutor that the witness had just pleaded the fifth — but no one knew it. The felony charge was tossed and the defendant got off with a misdemeanor.
In early years, Drescher took on what were among the first sexual discrimination cases and was a pro bono lawyer for the ACLU. In his his first case, he had to defend a Nazi — Drescher is Jewish — who had his gun illegally seized by police.
“I hate Nazis and I hate guns, but I got his gun back. You have to protect the civil rights of everyone if you want to protect the civil rights of anyone.” Observing the dark irony of the case, he adds, “For all I know, he went out and shot a Jew.”
As board president of the YMCA, Drescher led the campaign to buy athletic fields and construct the spacious Y building. He was pro bono lawyer for the Y and Ashland Chamber of Commerce, helping it develop into the community engine it is, shaping many parades and festivals and greatly increasing the commercial success of the town.
A native of Port Huron, Michigan, and son of a lawyer, Drescher graduated from Columbia University and got his law degree there. He knows his ancestry, noting that his grandparents fled the pogroms of Russia and the Ukraine, coming to America in the 1890s and early 20th century, while other kin survived Auschwitz concentration camp and fled to the new nation of Israel.
Finding Ashland, and living through the “magical” years of the '70s, “are my most heartfelt memories. I coached soccer for 12 years at the Y, as my kids were growing up. They got the most terrific education here in Ashland. I worked a lot through the years with (four-time mayor) Cathy Shaw and my diversion officer Jan Janssen and so many other people who have helped shape Ashland into the amazing place it is now.”
—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.