Retired Judge Sits on the Board

Jack Billings’ legal experience benefits Lane Electric Cooperative members

By Craig Reed

Jack Billings on the beach
As a board member for Lane Electric, Jack leans on his legal background as an attorney and judge. Photos Courtesy of Jack Billings

Jack Billings had experience as a school board member and as a transit board member. He also had experience as a judge.

When a friend suggested he run for the Lane Electric Cooperative Board of Directors, he remembers saying, “I felt like I could be a reasonable board member who could learn and contribute.”

He also had ample time, having retired from the Circuit Court bench in 2011 after 18 years.

Jack, 74, won the 2013 election. He has represented Lane Electric’s Central District since then.

“I figured if I could further contribute to the community, I was all in,” he says.

Jack had no background in the electric co-op industry. To familiarize himself with the cooperative before the 2013 election, he attended monthly board meetings.

“I hope my experience and background brings something of value to the Lane Electric board,” Jack says. “It’s not just a matter of keeping myself occupied. I want to be of value to others. Otherwise, I think I would be so bored I’d be miserable.”

Jack admits it was a steep learning curve in his initial years as a board member. He learned about the Bonneville Power Administration being a source of power for Lane Electric, contract negotiations with BPA for future power, and alternative sources of power.

“There are all these energy demands and renewal concepts that have to be met,” Jack says. “It’s a constant challenge on how we are going to manage and maintain the cooperative and continue to provide reliable and affordable power to the members into the future. That was the steepest learning curve for me.”

Jack and the other members of the seven-person board most recently helped the co-op respond to the snow and ice storm of 2019 and the wildfires of 2020. The board made budget decisions to support the co-op’s inside staff and outside crews, and to help members impacted by the natural events and unable to pay their power bills.

“Lane Electric has employees who are very professional, very dedicated to their work and to their safety,” Jack says. “It’s a solid administrative group and a solid line crew.”

Jack is complimentary of the board, too. He says the members’ different backgrounds are a benefit. He says the group gets along and works together on behalf of the members in a vital industry.

Jack Billings enjoys spending time on the water now that he is retired.

A native of Iowa and a 1971 graduate of the University of Iowa Law School, Jack has a background in community government and community service.

He joined the Iowa National Guard in 1968 during law school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1970. After graduation, he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and clerked for a federal judge. He transferred to the Army Reserve and served another year before being honorably discharged.

“My claim to fame (in Alabama) was that I drafted the opinion that desegregated the Alabama Highway Patrol,” Jack says. “The judge approved the draft.”

After a year in Alabama, Jack moved to Oregon. He was briefly in private practice before taking a job as assistant district attorney for Lane County. He served in that position for 2 1/2 years before becoming a partner in a private law firm.

After 18 years with that firm, he accepted an appointment as a state Circuit Court judge and dealt with cases ranging from speeding tickets to death penalty crimes.

Jack retired from the bench after 18 years, then worked for 3 1/2 years as a post-conviction relief judge. He now works part-time as a mediator for the Arbitration Service of Portland.

Jack’s community service included eight years on the Eugene School District 4J Board, president of the Oregon School Board Association, six years on the Lane Education Service District Board, two years on the Lane Transit District Board, and six years on the Looking Glass Youth & Family Services Board.

He has been a member of Stove Team International since 2009 and was appointed to the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council in 2015.

As a Lane Electric board member, Jack has chaired the Annual and District Meeting Planning Committee, Facilities Planning Committee, Member Committee Appointments Committee (appoints members to serve on the Nominating and Elections and Credentials committees), Policy Review and Development Committee, and Conservation Committee. As board treasurer, he now chairs the Audit Committee.

“Because of his legal background, Jack can view issues through the lens of risk and risk management, which adds to the diverse make up of Lane Electric’s board,” says Lane Electric General Manager Debi Wilson.

Jack, who is married to Linda DeSpain, enjoys rafting and drift boating, woodworking, and writing short stories. He recently self-published a crime detective book.

His most recent outdoor hobby is operating his 22-foot inboard boat and learning to fish.

Jack says it is a big responsibility to be a Lane Electric board member and to make decisions on behalf of the membership.

“We can’t survive without electricity,” he says. “I’m pleased to have the responsibility in helping to maintain the flow of power to our members.”