Jackson County DA, Judge speak out after order to disqualify is rescinded

JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. – Jackson County District Attorney, Beth Heckert is speaking out after an order to disqualify Judge David Orr has been rescinded.

According to a press release from Heckert’s office, she originally delivered a letter motioning to disqualify Judge Orr to Judge Lorenzo Mejia back in July 2021. At that time, Heckert asked for Judge Orr to be disqualified from “hearing all matters” to which her office was a party.

“Moving to disqualify a judge is not something I take lightly and this is the only time I have done so in my 36 years of service,” Heckert wrote.

Heckert went on to say that Judge Orr made no objection to her motion and as of July 28, 2021, Judge Mejia signed the order to disqualify.

Fast forward to the 2023 legislature, during which Heckert says the law under SB 807 governing the procedure for disqualifying a judge in any type of case was changed. That new law went into effect on January 1, 2024. Heckert also says there was nothing in the legislature that would indicate SB 807 would be applied retroactively.

In October of 2023, Heckert learned that Judge Bloom was considering vacating the order to disqualify Judge Orr. She says after several conversations between herself and Judge Bloom, he had decided not to vacate the order.

However during some of those conversations, Heckert says she told Judge Bloom she felt nothing had occurred that would lead her to believe anything would be different with Judge Orr in the future. She also said she told Judge Bloom, “this feels very politically motivated. He acknowledged that it was politically motivated knowing that Judge Orr was possibly facing a contested election where the disqualification could be an issue. He also assured me that if he vacated the Order he had no intention of  moving Judge Orr to the criminal docket.”

On April 17, 2024 Heckert says she learned that Judge Bloom had in fact “rescinded the prior recusal Order,” citing SB 807. She also says at that time she learned from another judge, that Judge Bloom had vacated the order to support Judge Orr.

Once receiving a copy of the order rescinding the disqualification order, Heckert found it had been legally back dated to April 16 and thus made it apply retroactively. The same date Judge Orr had reportedly told an RV Times reporter that it had already been vacated.

Heckert says, “I believe the Order was vacated by Judge Bloom for political reasons at the request of Judge Orr. This action was taken 34 days before the Primary Election. I was aware that the RV Times had requested that the candidates in contested races answer some questions. The answers to those questions were due to RV Times on April 19, 2024. The timing of the Order rescinding the Disqualification Order coincides with Election events.”

She also indicates that she believes if Judge Bloom had indeed been motivated by a change in the law, he would have vacated the order to disqualify Judge Orr back in January, when it went into effect.

Heckert says she will be filing a complaint with the Commission regarding Judge Orr and Judge Bloom.

Read DA Beth Heckert’s full letter here.

Just one day after Jackson County DA Beth Heckert send out a press release, expressing her concerns with Judge Bloom’s decision to vacate the Disqualification Order filed against Judge Orr, Judge Orr is also releasing a statement.

It is as follows:

1. Ms. Heckert did not attempt to appeal any of the rulings she complained of.
2. The district attorney enjoys no special prerogative in making judicial complaints – any person may do so.  Many people do so, and there is no consequence to the complainant if the complaint turns out to be meritless.
3.  Until last year, Oregon had a state-wide problem with district attorneys abusing the recusal process to cherry-pick judges.   District attorneys had the power to recuse a judge without demonstrating a reason, overriding the will of the voters who elected the judge to office.  Between 2016 and 2020, motions barring judges from criminal cases were filed in 20,687 cases across Oregon, overwhelmingly by district attorneys. Michael Gillette, a former Oregon Supreme Court justice, wrote the last major decision on the recusal statute three decades ago.  Testifying before the legislature last year, Gillette explained that when they issued the opinion, the Supreme Court justices didn’t anticipate disqualification of judges from an entire class of cases for months or years, “preventing judges from carrying out the function they were elected to perform.” He said “the result is a system that’s broken.”  (The Oregonian, May 19, 2023.)

In 2023, Senate Bill 807 corrected this problem, and now district attorneys must demonstrate a reason for a recusal.  This aligns Oregon’s procedure with most of the rest of the country.  As a result, I am no longer recused from district attorney cases.  I will continue to require accountability from all parties appearing before me, regardless of who that party may be.

Judge Orr added the following to his original statement:

It is also a matter of record that the two main cases leading to the DA’s recusal motion centered on transparency of DA and police operations.  In one, a deputy district attorney had filed a case that resulted in an internal investigation regarding mishandling of evidence.  The internal investigation was conducted by an MPD sergeant who was romantically involved with (and later married) the deputy DA who had filed the case.  The DA objected to the release of the records of the internal investigation to the defense, but were seeking a lengthy prison term for the defendant.  I ordered the release of the records from the internal investigation.  In a second case, it was found that MPD has a written policy that allows MPD to decide internally, without informing the DA, whether or not to disclose certain types of evidence in criminal cases..  This practice is flatly prohibited by a 1995 ruling from the United States Supreme Court (Kyles vs. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419), and I did not allow the DA to proceed in that manner in cases before me.  These cases were cited by the DA in their recusal motion.  The district attorney may wish to issue an additional press release explaining their position on those matters.

NBC5 is working to contact Judge Bloom.






© 2024 KOBI-TV NBC5. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Skip to content