A local prosecutor kicked off his election bid to become a Jackson County Circuit Court judge by refusing to accept campaign contributions and taking aim at the "good old boy" judicial appointment process.
But when he questioned the process, a sitting Jackson County judge suggested his concerns may be sour grapes.
"I will accept no campaign funding from any lawyer, law-firm, corporation or from any other source whatsoever," said Deputy District Attorney David Orr. "I believe that it is impossible to be completely fair and unbiased when serving as a judge after having received monetary endorsements during the campaign process."
After deeming his opponent, incumbent Judge Benjamin Bloom, as "a man of good character," Orr, 48, asked Bloom, 45, who attended Orr's scantily attended noon press conference Wednesday, to either return the $9,000 Bloom's campaign already had collected, or post a list of the donors on the judge's courtroom door.
"What do you think a person who donates $1,000 to a judge's campaign expects in return — justice or influence?" Orr said.
Bloom said he was not opposed to having a list of donors posted. But he said he would not return his donations. Nor did he want to know who had donated to his campaign, Bloom said.
"I don't ask anyone for money, and I don't know who's giving me money. As a sitting judge, I simply do not want to know," Bloom said.
Adding he left a law partnership and took a significant pay cut to accept the position of judge, Bloom said, "I have three children, and I don't want to give away their college education funds."
Donations recorded with the Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State's office show that Bloom has received 43 donations, most of them for between $100 and $500. He received two $1,000 donations from lawyers Jamie Hazlett and Lee Weisel and received a $3,000 in-kind donation from Josh Moulin, who is the commander of the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force, a multi-agency police team that focuses much of its effort on combatting online child pornography.
Orr also voiced opposition to what he described as a "biased system" of governor appointees, which he said should be limited to instances in which a judge cannot finish his term because of ill health or other circumstances. Retiring judges routinely resign before the expiration of their term, and the appointment system stymies the public's right to elect judges, Orr said.
That means the state is "consistently allowing the governor, rather than the voters, to choose a judge," Orr said.
Appointed judges are then endorsed in the next election by all of the other sitting judges and local government officials, completing a "circle of power," Orr said.
Because of this practice, a sitting judge has not been voted out of office since the 1970s, he said.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Tim Barnack also attended Orr's press conference. Barnack, a former Jackson County prosecutor, in 2008 defeated fellow prosecutor John Norton, and former county counsel Doug McGeary, to win the position of retiring Judge Rebecca Orf.
Barnack pressed Orr as to why he hadn't sought answers for transparency in the judicial selection process sooner and noted that Orr had put his name in the hat for the 2010 judicial appointments, but had been passed over.
The judge appointees were selected from a pool of 20 candidates and were interviewed by a panel of local attorneys, the governor's counsel and the governor.
Then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a statement at the time of Bloom's appointment in 2010 that he had selected Bloom because of his "diligence, intelligence, integrity and good reputation in the Oregon legal community."
Barnack said Orr was willing to participate in the appointment system when it might have been to his benefit and questioned whether he now was challenging it simply because he wasn't selected.
Two other veteran Jackson County prosecutors also had put in their names for appointment to the judgeships, Orr said. None of them made the first cut, he added.
Bloom was a judge pro tem and an attorney for local municipalities when Kulongoski appointed him to fill retiring Judge Mark Schiveley's position. A former partner at the Medford law firm of Hornecker, Cowling, Hassen & Heysell, Bloom had practiced civil litigation since 1993 with a focus on professional negligence defense. Bloom has represented multiple municipalities, primarily Jackson and Josephine counties, in state and federal court.
Tim Gerking, 61, the attorney for three Southern Oregon public school districts, also was appointed in 2010 to fill retiring Judge Ray White's position. White's term was set to expire Jan. 1, 2013; Schiveley was to serve until 2015.
Bloom said he is proud of the support he has received within the civil and criminal law community, and added that he is determined to give all who attend his court "a full and fair opportunity to be heard."
"I know that when people come to court it is the most important thing in their lives (at that time)," Bloom said.
Orr attended college at the University of Kansas and Law School at Washburn University. He served as a public defender in Kansas for 31/2; years and worked as an associate for a civil litigation firm. He began his deputy district attorney career in Linn County in 2000.
Although Bloom has presided over several high-profile criminal cases in Jackson County since taking the bench, Orr challenged Bloom's lack of experience as a criminal attorney.
"You can't learn criminal law from the bench," Orr said, adding that as a county prosecutor since 2003, he has handled thousands of criminal cases, including murder, rape, child sex abuse, assault and property crimes, and has tried well over 100 cases to a jury.
Bloom said his expertise in civil law may have won him the governor's appointment, adding he handles many child custody cases.
"The governor appoints people he believes, and the bar believes, are the best qualified," Bloom said. "I think there's nothing more important than deciding a child's custody."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.