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Klamath sheriff wants court to overturn deputies' leave

KLAMATH FALLS — A court petition from Klamath County Sheriff Frank Skrah to revoke leave for seven deputies has been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday afternoon before Circuit Court Judge Dan Bunch.

The petition, seeking a temporary restraining order against Klamath County Board of Commissioners and Klamath County Peace Officers Association, claims the leave of the deputies is placing an unreasonable burden on the sheriff's ability to provide public safety.

Skrah is asking specifically for the leaves to be revoked, for similar leave to be denied to other deputies, for complaints against the sheriff to be sent to binding arbitration, for county officials to meet with him in person to resolve outstanding concerns, and for plaintiffs to be prevented from discussing such matters with the media.

The seven deputies had been placed on leave last month after filing human resources complaints against Skrah alleging unfair labor practices. The deputies claim Skrah was retaliating against them after they were interviewed by the state Department of Justice, which is investigating allegations of excessive force against Skrah.

The sheriff's petition included a request for an expedited hearing, and attorneys for the parties involved met Thursday via conference call with Bunch to set a date.

During scheduling, representatives for Skrah said they would expect the hearing to last an hour. Representatives for KCPOA, the deputies' union, said they expect their presentation to the court may last longer, as they plan to call two or three witnesses to support their case, including Skrah.

Bunch said his calendar for Tuesday is open and a hearing to consider the restraining order was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Counsel for Skrah said a subsequent hearing to consider a larger petition for injunctive relief may take as much as half a day, and a date for that hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Bunch had been assigned the case after all other Klamath County judges recused themselves for potential conflicts of interest.

Bunch noted he had once represented Klamath County in private practice, but said he felt comfortable hearing the matter as neither Skrah nor present county commissioners were in office at the time. He also noted he is unaware of the identities of the seven deputies on leave and did not expect he could extrapolate their identities, either.

Counsel present did not voice any objections to Bunch hearing the case, but were encouraged to file formal petitions with the court if they wished to have another judge hear the case.

If an objection to Bunch hearing the matter were to be filed, the court would have to seek a judge from an adjoining jurisdiction to come to Klamath County.