September 3, 2010
Louise Uttinger ’80 is Reaping the Benefits of Hard Work
This is the third in a weekly series of stories profiling Oregon Law alumni whose class reunions occur this fall.
Louise Uttinger may just be the phrase, “Hard Work Pays Off” personified. A rare “Triple Duck” (bachelor’s degree in 1972, master’s degree in ’74, and law degree in ’80), Uttinger made a series of difficult decisions in order to support her family and further her professional career.
“In 1976, two things happened: I learned I was pregnant and I decided to go to law school,” recalls Uttinger, a native of St. Helens, Oregon, who was a middle school English teacher at the time. “While I loved teaching, I knew I couldn’t support a family on what I was earning. I later learned that as an attorney, much of what you do is education.”
While it’s not uncommon for women these days to balance work, family, and school, a woman in the late 1970s wearing all of these hats was no doubt an anomaly. Uttinger, whose husband was a Vietnam War veteran with medical problems limiting his ability to work, was frequently confronted with attitudes against women who were the sole support of a family.
“More than once I’d been asked in an interview what my spouse would ‘do’ if I was offered a position and moved to a small town,” she says of her days searching for teaching positions in a tight job market.
After Uttinger made the decision to attend law school in 1976, she took a weekend off and drove down to Eugene from her home in Myrtle Point, Oregon, to take the LSAT examination. She says her preparation was nothing more than reading the materials and showing up for the test.
“My strategy was to ace the English and writing portions and not to stress over the math portion of the test,” she admits.
Uttinger continued teaching middle school by day and community college by night while waiting for law school acceptance letters ’— and becoming increasingly pregnant.
“I taught until a few days before my son was born,” says Uttinger. “In those days, some employers made women quit their jobs if they were ‘showing.’ I figured I was the best sex education the kids had that school year.”
While Uttinger was never forced to leave her job, she admits her decision to attend law school was cemented by a disagreement with her district superintendent and district administration over its sick leave policy for pregnancy.
“While I had plenty of sick time, I was told that I could not use any sick leave after delivering the baby. I had to report to work, and then go home sick. I said that if a man had back surgery in a hospital he could stay home on sick leave and delivering a baby in a hospital should be no different.”
In 1977, Uttinger filed a Title VII Discrimination claim against the district that resolved in 1978. And while it brought her little money, she was comforted by the fact that she helped make things better for other women in similar situations.
Uttinger’s son was born in March 1977, and a week later she received three law school acceptance letters. “I only wanted to be accepted by the UO. I recall being so excited about the letter, while my in-laws and relatives were much more excited about the baby.”
Six months later, the family moved to Eugene and Uttinger was busier than ever playing mom, wife, student, and even teacher, some days getting by on as little as four hours of sleep a night. Although it was strongly discouraged, two nights a week during her first year, she quietly moonlighted by teaching classes at Lane Community College.
“In 1977, I believe I was the only mother of an infant in our class. I later joked that I went into law school at 27 and came out at 60!”
Uttinger made it through those three years with a law degree and specialty in Ocean Law, which has proved to be crucial in her current work with utility law, energy law, and environmental siting of power plants and renewable energy projects for the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.
“The legal education at UO served me well,” she fondly remarks. “Professor Charles Wilkinson and Indian Law allowed me to serve tribes and individuals in Nevada for many years. And Professor Dave Frohnmayer’s Constitutional Law class was superb.”
Heading to Nevada following graduation, Uttinger’s public service career spans thirty years of not only environmental and utility law, but also advocating on behalf of the elderly before the Nevada legislature and working with Nevada Indian tribes on economic development projects.
She also participated in the 2002 Vegas Vice Hackers case, where she cross-examined infamous computer hacker Kevin Mitnick. The case involved escort services owners who alleged hacking of the Sprint (then Las Vegas) telephone system.
In 1999, nearly 20 years since graduating from Oregon Law, Uttinger obtained her private pilot’s license and became active in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a non-profit volunteer organization that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. Members of CAP perform search and rescue services, disaster relief, and aerospace education.
As a CAP pilot, she participated in the highly publicized 2007 search for American businessman Steve Fossett whose plane went missing in the Nevada desert. At the time, Uttinger was the wing (state) legal officer. The search was based at her local CAP Squadron in Minden, Nevada, where Uttinger served as an emergency services member with search crews flying sorties (search flights).
Later, Uttinger also became the proud owner of a 1983 944 Porsche and a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza airplane, lovingly named “Whiskey,” and says she achieved “another check on my personal ‘bucket list.’”