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Previous story Helen Frye, first woman named as federal judge in Oregon, dies at 80 Next story

Published on Saturday April 23, 2011 - 5:51 AM
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PORTLAND, Oregon - Helen J. Frye, who was the first woman named to be a federal judge in Oregon and who presided over a key case dealing with the Rajneeshees cult in the 1980s, has died at 80.

Her family said she died Thursday after a long illness. She is survived by three children and a brother.

Frye was born in Klamath Falls and grew up on a potato farm, according to her family and biographical information from the U.S. District Court in Oregon.

A 2005 newsletter from the court's historical society said she graduated from the University of Oregon, also getting a master's degree in education.

She later turned to the law. She was one of three women in the university's law school class of 1966 and was named a state circuit court judge by Gov. Tom McCall, the first woman to hold such a seat, the document said.

Nominated to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter, she became a federal judge in 1980.

Her son, Eric Frye of New York, said Friday that among the cases she regarded as significant was a 1985 decision voiding the incorporation of the Eastern Oregon town started by followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. She ruled the city was an unconstitutional merging of church and state.

Her tenure also came during an era of court battles over logging and spotted owl habitat.

"She felt she got put in the middle of this tremendous fight between environmentalists and the timber companies," her son said. "She said it was a very arduous and long, drawn-out process."

Frye took senior status as a judge in 1995. She lived in Portland.