Courtesy of Sherman, Sherman Johnnie & Hoyt
An Oregon attorney known for advocating on behalf of farmers, John Albert, passed away last month at the age of 66.
Albert died suddenly in Salem, Ore., on Aug. 27 from what’s believed to be a massive heart attack. A memorial service was held Sept. 8.
After graduating from law school in 1976, Albert initially took a job with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and then held positions in Klamath Falls and The Dalles.
He became acquainted with the financial challenges faced by farmers upon joining the Churchill Leonard law firm in 1981, where he specialized in agricultural liens and bankruptcy law.
“Ag law was not his only area of expertise, but it was a primary area of expertise,” said Stephen Tweet, Albert’s friend and longtime law partner.
Among his most notable cases was the bankruptcy of the seed company AgriBioTech in 2000, which threatened to leave many grass seed farmers unpaid for their crops.
While his farmer clients initially feared huge losses, Albert was able to recover a “fair hunk” of what they were owed, Tweet said. “There were still losses but I believe a fair percentage of the growers’ claims were paid.”
Agricultural liens are a crucial tool for farmers who deliver crops to companies that go bankrupt, since they secure collateral in the buyer’s assets that can be used to compensate growers.
In such cases, Albert would often battle with banks that claimed to have the top priority for repayment, said Tweet. “The bank is competing with the farmer over who gets paid first, so that was a huge fight.”
After a decade at Churchill Leonard, Albert struck out on his own, forming two law firms with Tweet in the 1990s. He joined the firm of Sherman, Sherman, Johnnie & Hoyt after Tweet retired in 2014.
Aside from courtroom disputes, Albert also fought for farmers in the Oregon Legislature, where he was instrumental in the passage of a law strengthening their contract protections in 2011.
Among other provisions, House Bill 2159 established a mandatory payment date for delivered grass seed and a mechanism for resolving disagreements over price.
When he wasn’t delving into legal issues, Albert led an active lifestyle in his free time as a soccer referee, gardener and marathon runner.
“I couldn’t have been more shocked,” Tweet said of his friend’s death.