Bernard Jolles: From Communist Party Connections to Prominent Portland Attorney – A Life of Turbulence and Triumph

PORTLAND, Ore. – Bernard Jolles, a prominent Portland attorney known for his long law career and early affiliation with the Communist Party, passed away at the age of 95. Jolles’ life journey, which began in Brooklyn in 1928, was marked by political activism and perseverance.

Born to Polish immigrant parents, Jolles grew up in a Jewish neighborhood but did not adhere to religious practices. His father, though never a member of the Communist Party, sympathized with the Soviets’ policy and fought against oppression. This upbringing shaped Jolles’ political views from a young age.

Despite academic excellence, Jolles had a rebellious streak. He dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic and even yearned to participate in the war. Although he missed the opportunity to serve, Jolles eventually joined the Navy and spent 22 months stationed in Guam.

Returning home, Jolles pursued higher education at New York University, but his life took a different path when he joined the Communist Party in 1949. Motivated by his communist principles, he worked as a longshoreman and, later, ventured into the legal profession.

In 1957, seeking a fresh start, Jolles moved to Portland with his family. He enrolled in law school at night while working on personal injury cases during the day. However, his past political affiliation became a cause for concern, as McCarthyism still loomed large. To preempt any consequences, Jolles disclosed his Communist Party membership during the process of applying to the bar.

The disclosure prompted a hearing by the Board of Bar Examiners, during which Jolles faced intense questioning. Despite finding no evidence of wrongdoing, the board initially made an adverse recommendation. Jolles, however, persisted. With the help of a lawyer, he successfully argued before the Oregon Supreme Court in 1963 that he had the moral fitness to practice law.

For the next 46 years, Jolles established himself as a respected attorney in Portland, specializing in trial work and personal injury cases. He remained passionate about labor unions and supported the Western Council of Industrial Workers. Additionally, Jolles was dedicated to defending civil liberties and served on the executive board of the ACLU.

Jolles’ impact extended to the next generation, as he taught law classes at Lewis & Clark Law School for two decades. In 1986, he became the president of the Oregon State Bar, a testament to his resilience and commitment to his profession.

Bernard Jolles is survived by his wife, Susan Walker, and his daughters, Jacqueline and Abbe Jolles. He is preceded in death by his son, Howard, and daughter, Carolyn.

In summary, Bernard Jolles, a prominent Portland attorney, overcame the challenges stemming from his affiliation with the Communist Party to become a respected member of the legal community. His commitment to labor unions, civil liberties, and public service left a lasting impact on those around him.