Circuit Judge Eva Temple no longer will handle criminal cases in Umatilla County. The change is effective Friday.
Roy Blaine, trial court administrator for the 6th Judicial District, said any good organization reviews its business model to look for better ways to deliver services. The district has done that before, he said, and in this case two major factors are driving the redistribution of cases and other changes: the coming retirement of Circuit Judge Lynn Hampton, who handles family law, and District Attorney Dan Primus’ moves to disqualify Temple.
Primus began filing motions a couple of weeks ago to block Temple from presiding over new criminal cases. Primus in affidavits claims the state cannot receive fair and impartial treatment from Temple. Primus has not specified what led to the decision.
Attorneys in Oregon can disqualify up to two judges for no reason. Defense attorneys make the demand more often than prosecutors.
An affidavit from a lawyer asserting the judge is unfair is rare. Blaine said prosecutors disqualifying a particular judge happens, but in his experience the situation is “fairly uncommon.”
Presiding Judge Christopher Brauer put together an “executive committee” consisting of himself, Circuit Judge Dan Hill, who is the past presiding judge, and Blaine. They came up with a plan to redistribute cases, Blaine said, while improving court services to the public.
According to the copy of the plan from Blaine, several changes take place immediately.
Temple becomes the chief administrative judge for all case types other than criminal. This spans lawsuits, small claims, mental health, domestic relations and more. She also hands most of her criminal caseload to Hill, who will manage it for the near term.
Brauer, Hill and Judge Jon Lieuallen will reassign their non-criminal cases to Temple. And all new criminal cases land in the either Brauer’s or Lieuallen’s courtrooms, which are both in the county courthouse in Pendleton. That will last until at least the end of 2018.
Other changes are also in the works. Effective Sept, 1, service counters in Pendleton, Hermiston and Heppner will close at 3 p.m. on Fridays instead of 4:30 for staff training and learning opportunities.
And in January, Robert Collins takes over courtroom 2 in Pendleton from Hampton, and he will get a share of Temple’s non-criminal work. Court staff also begin assigning all new civil and non-criminal cases randomly between Collins and Temple, and Hill’s caseload will undergo review, per the plan, “for equitable rebalancing” between his court, Lieuallen’s and Brauer’s.
And with any new plan, Blaine said, this is a work in progress.
Defense attorney John Ballard of Hermiston handled an intoxicated driving trial Thursday in Temple’s courtroom. He said he hopes for a resolution to the mess he saw in the circuit court because the situation as it stood “kind of puts an avalanche on the other judges.”
Ballard said he likes Primus and does not know his motive for disqualifying Temple, who he thinks is good at her job.
“I’ve got no beef with Judge Temple. I find her to be fair. Every judge has their own little quirks. Not every ruling goes the way you want it or the way you think it should,” Ballard said, but “... That’s the nature of the beast.”
Ballard said the disqualifications also made him concerned about a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. The citation in his case came on July 23, 2016, he said, a bit more than two years ago. Ballard said he assumes any criminal case going to trial takes a year, and shutting off the flow to Temple’s courtroom could add six months or more to that slog.
“At some point you’re going to run into speedy trial issues,” he said.
Blaine agreed, and said the plan is to mitigate that problem, but it does come with inconvenience for residents on the west side of the county, who now may have to travel to Pendleton for their cases.
Blaine also said the changes to Temple’s docket only apply to Umatilla County cases and have no effect on her Morrow County cases. Blaine also said no one should consider Temple a poor judge because Primus wants her off criminal matters.
“Really, in my mind, it’s a over a technicality,” Blaine said. “I think the district attorney has an opinion, and this is his tool for expressing that opinion.”
The East Oregonian tried to talk to other attorneys who have worked in Temple’s courtroom, but only Ballard returned the call. Several others have written letters of support for Temple that have appeared on the paper’s opinion page.