Chris Helmer primarily handles international and maritime matters—both litigation and transactional. With 30+ years of litigation experience, she is in a unique position to assist clients in contract drafting and assessing contractual risks. And that litigation experience includes regular handling of the issues particular to cross-border and admiralty litigation that not every practitioner is accustomed to dealing with—service abroad, obtaining evidence abroad, jurisdiction over foreign parties for claims arising in faraway countries, vessel arrests and attachments, customs, FCPA and export sanctions issues, and enforcement of international arbitration awards and foreign judgments. If a business plan or problem has a foreign component, Chris has likely dealt with it.
Chris works with clients in multiple industries, including natural resources, agriculture, food and beverage, technology, shipping, marine terminals, and manufacturing. She has negotiated and documented hundreds of simple to complex contracts dealing with licensing and product sales, agency and distribution, vessel construction, charter parties, foreign joint ventures, letters of credit, and cross-border financing. Her litigation/arbitration experience includes not only U.S.-based disputes but management of foreign litigation and handling arbitrations before the recognized international arbitral institutions—ICC, SIAC, ICDR (AAA), LCA, and others.
Chris’s service as temporary in-house counsel to an international financing subsidiary of Daimler Benz and her work with myriad businesspeople give her a good understanding of what clients really need and want. She keeps up with a network of experienced foreign counsel through her work as an officer of the International Bar Association’s Litigation Committee and teaches admiralty law as an adjunct professor for Lewis & Clark Law School. Chris also taught International Dispute Resolution at Lewis & Clark for ten years. She is regularly listed in Oregon Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America© in the categories of international, business litigation, and admiralty.
Successful defense of federal court action to recognize and enforce arbitral award rendered by a provincial Chinese arbitration institution. Foreign arbitration awards are enforceable in the United States under the New York Convention and their enforceability is difficult to challenge. Defended on the basis of lack of due process because all communications from the arbitral proceeding were in Mandarin, a language that the client did not know. This was a very significant decision nationally and internationally.
Current international arbitration before the Singapore International Arbitration Centre involving significant claims arising out of failed manufacturing joint venture in India.
Obtained federal district court judgment dismissing New York Convention challenges to multimillion-dollar ICC arbitral award involving Belgian client's chemical manufacturing facility.
Arbitrated lumber sales contract dispute between U.S. buyer and Russian and Austrian sellers to successful resolution before International Arbitration Centre of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.
Successful Stockholm Chamber of Commerce product liability property damage arbitration on behalf of Beijing truck manufacturer under the U.S. Convention on the International Sale of Goods.
AAA International Center for Dispute Resolution arbitration between Saudi Arabian product distributor and U.S. manufacturer under Saudi Arabian government-sponsored form of unregistered distribution agreement.
Drafted hundreds of international sales contracts, standard form international terms and conditions, product distribution or channel agreements, custom foreign manufacturing agreements, foreign country agency agreements, ex-pat employee agreements, and foreign-invested joint venture agreements for variety of industries including technology, wood products, heavy equipment, solar energy, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, food products and pet food, alcoholic beverages, and agricultural products.
Negotiated resolution of a $50 million long-term supply contract dispute between a United States/German supplier and a Belgium product purchaser in a specialty industry.
On behalf of a company owned by five Middle Eastern sovereigns, investigated and prepared claims against the U.S. government regarding more than $10 million for services rendered in connection with the Iraq war.
Initial and renewal applications for People's Republic of China AQSIQ scrap licenses sought by United States scrap companies, together with ongoing advice regarding the interpretation of and compliance with AQSIQ regulations.
Negotiated civil penalties for accused employee of admitted long-term FCPA violations where company paid more than $10 million in fines and entered into a multi-year compliance consent decree.
Obtained Department of Commerce ruling removing trademarked manufactured products from scope of long-standing and anti-dumping order, despite existing contrary scope ruling purporting to cover the same products.
Acted as foreign counsel representing multinational medical equipment manufacturer in several litigated contract disputes in Caracas, Venezuela, and Bogota, Colombia.
Handled numerous cross-border discovery disputes, including recent successful defense of broad-based document discovery orders affecting a European religious entity alleged to have a United States presence.
Represented the association of French bankruptcy trustees in pursuing a multimillion-dollar claim against the recipient of funds taken from a French trustee through international fraud.
After five years, before the state of Washington federal district court and two trips to the 9th Circuit, successfully obtained an order of civil contempt after trial, a $2.55 million (public) contempt settlement, and a permanent Injunction for Japanese clients based on several international maritime treaties in order to ensure safety at sea as a result of defendants' annual direct action campaigns in the Antarctic Southern Ocean against Japanese fleet. 9th Circuit decisions reported at 774 F.3d 935, 588 Fed. Appx. 701, 702 F.3d 573, 725 F.3d 940, and 708 F.3d 1099. Institute of Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd. vs. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Paul Watson, United States District Court, Western District of Washington at Seattle, Case No. C11-2043JLR, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 12-35266.
Obtained defense verdict in federal district court and 9th Circuit of admiralty collision case on basis of Act of God where similarly situated blue water bulk carriers were held liable for significant property damage to Columbia River docks and manufacturing facilities, reported as Weyerhauser v. ATROPOS ISLAND, 777 F2d 1344.
Assisted privately held agricultural industry leader with eleven simultaneous Prior Disclosures to Commissioner of Customs covering approximately 27,000 import entries at 33 ports valued at more than $800 million.
Prepared two recent customs petitions for clients experiencing product seizure and penalties, with the result of 100 percent and 90 percent penalty decreases, respectively. One of these results was particularly difficult to obtain because the client had in fact violated registered intellectual property rights with products it had manufactured in China for U.S. sales.
Drafted and advised public port entity on successful multimillion-dollar equipment purchase and custom construction contract with Chinese company, including import and payment issues.
Education Institutions Plus
Prepared Human Resources and Tax/Social Benefits Framework Agreement for U.S. private university’s relationship with U.K. company to allow U.K. company to hire and secondments temporary employees for U.S. university in a variety of countries, including preparation of individual foreign employee employment contracts.
Advice to U.S.-based higher education institutions on foreign country requirements for providing college-level classes and degrees, establishing subsidiaries abroad, and handling employment relationships, including contract negotiations and drafting.
Insurance Recovery Plus
Successful settlement resolution of state court insurance coverage recovery action against multiple national and international insurers for multinational manufacturer named as a potentially responsible party in the ongoing extensive Portland Harbor cleanup. As a part of that proceeding, obtained an antisuit injunction prohibiting insurers from continuing with a duplicative action brought by them in another state seeking a declaratory judgment of no coverage. Coverage was sought for the client under insurance policies of predecessor companies that had owned the client's current Portland facility within the Portland Harbor cleanup study area.
- Oregon State Bar, Member
- Board of Governors, Past Treasurer and Board Member
- Washington State Bar Association, Member
- International Bar Association
- Litigation Committee, Vice Chair
- Litigation Committee Newsletter, Past Co-Editor
- Litigation Committee, Past Treasurer
- American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution, Neutral Arbitrator
- Lewis & Clark Law School, Adjunct Professor
- Litigating Abroad
- Transnational Litigation and Arbitration, 2000-2008
- Xiamen University Law Department, People’s Republic of China, Guest Lecturer
- Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners, an Oregon Supreme Court appointment, Past Vice Chair and Board Member
- Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, a U.S. District Court of Oregon appointment
- Past Delegate
- Judicial Conference Executive Committee, Past Member
- Oregon College of Art and Craft, Board Chair, 2012-2013
- Lewis & Clark Law School, Board of Visitors member and frequent advisor to the law school’s Global Law Program
- World Affairs Council, Oregon Chapter, Past Board Chair
- Honored with the Oregon State Bar Edwin J. Peterson Professionalism Award, 2022
- Selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® (Portland, OR)
- Admiralty and Maritime Law, 1993-present
- Commercial Litigation, 2018-present
- Recognized as the “Lawyer of the Year—USA” in Admiralty and Maritime by Lawyer Monthly, 2018
- Selected to the international edition of Who’s Who Legal: Litigation, 2018
- Distinguished Graduate Award, Lewis & Clark Law School, 2008
- Selected for inclusion as an Oregon Super Lawyer, 2006-present
- Rated of AV® Preeminent™ by Martindale-Hubbell®
Outside the Office
Chris loves design in any form—architecture, jewelry, home furnishings, craft—as well as travel to any place. Some of her fondest memories are of flea markets where she has to bargain in a language she can’t quite speak. The characteristic that probably serves her best as a lawyer is the ability to problem-solve. Whether the puzzle be legal analysis, strategy, or figuring out what will persuade, she enjoys every minute of it and is particularly pleased when she can use those problem-solving skills to bridge cultural differences to a positive result.