Two candidates are running for Deschutes County district attorney this spring. The incumbent, Patrick Flaherty, has been in office for one term.
But Flaherty’s decision to fire three deputy prosecutors early on in his administration is still making headlines. It also prompted a challenger to jump in the race
That challenger is John Hummel. For more than a decade, Hummel practiced criminal law as defense attorney. He also served two terms on the Bend City Council between 2000 and 2008. Stepping back into the public eye, the Hummel campaign created an ad to reintroduce him to voters. And who better to do that than the candidate’s mother.
In it, Marie Hummel says, “John’s father and I taught our kids that if you set out to do something, you give it everything you’ve got. His coaches, scout leaders taught him discipline, perseverance and how to work with others.”
Working well with others has become central theme in Hummel’s campaign and one of his primary critiques against Flaherty.
Hummel says when it comes to terminating a person’s employment, there’s right way and a wrong way to go about doing that.
Hummel says, “Patrick did it the wrong way. He came in and said ‘You’re all gone. The heck with it. See ya. I don’t care. Damn the torpedos.’ And the torpedos have cost the taxpayers over $1 million.”
Flaherty defended his decision at a debate between the two candidates put on earlier this month by the Bend Chamber of Commerce. He criticized the state’s decision to settle the case saying that the firings were justified. Flaherty said any blame over cost should be directed at the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.
Flaherty said, “I had no control and no one in my office had any control over the course of that litigation. But I’ll tell you that every elected district attorney in the state would agree with the principle that brought that litigation about, was that deputy DAs, because they have the same power as the elected DA, are at-will employees.”
Flaherty says the DA’s office is functioning better today than it was when he took over. Flaherty has the support of the Bend Police Officers Association — an endorsement that he points to as evidence that justice is being served under his watch.
He added, “If you look at the core functions of the district attorney’s office, you’ll see that I and my staff have performed those functions exceedingly well.”
Flaherty in his first term has successfully prosecuted all five murder cases brought by his office.
Flaherty says the fact that Hummel has never been a prosecutor makes his opponent unqualified to serve as district attorney. “It’s really critical that the elected DA have a solid background in prosecution work. You cannot lead 18 prosecutors if you do not have the skill set,” he said.
But Hummel thinks otherwise, and he’s not alone in that regard. He’s secured the endorsements from a host of business leaders and elected officials including the mayors of Bend, Sisters, Redmond and La Pine.
Hummel says his resume not only includes a background in criminal law, but he’s also headed the Oregon Consensus Institute at Portland State University. And he spent two years training police officers, judges and prosecutors in Liberia following the conclusion of that country’s civil war.
Hummell explained, “My Liberian friends and my international friends working in Liberia all risked their lives to create a justice system like we have in the US. So it bothers me deeply when I see the shenanigans going on at this District Attorney’s office. The rule of law and justice is too important to bring politics and personal division into it.”
Four years ago, Patrick Flaherty was running on a slogan of “justice, not politics” when he unseated a long-serving incumbent. Flaherty says he’s kept his promises and deserves to be re-elected. But whether he’ll be successful making his case to voters - well, the jury is still out on that question, and will be up until election day.
The election is May 20.