UPDATE (8:19 p.m. PT) — In a note to staff Wednesday, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill announced he won’t seek re-election.
“After much careful thought, consideration and conversations with family and close friends, I have decided not to run for a third term as Multnomah County’s District Attorney,” Underhill said in his note to staff.
He said he plans to retire after his term expires at the end of 2020.
Underhill has held the office since January 2013 and described his 30 years in the Multnomah County prosecutor’s office as a “tremendous honor” and pleasure.
“There is a lot more work that we need to do together over the next year and a half in service to our community,” he wrote. “I look forward to continuing our shared vision of an open and balanced administration of justice, one that honors and respects diversity in all of its forms as we provide fair, equitable and unbiased prosecution services.”
As news of Underhill’s retirement spread, talk turned to who might run to replace him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight said he was interested.
“I’m planning on running,” he told OPB.
Knight is the national security coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon. He was the lead attorney on the trial of Ammon Bundy and others charged with conspiracy for taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
The first trial ended in acquittals of the leaders, while other occupiers were convicted in a second trial.
Knight grew up in Portland. He attended Lincoln High School, Duke University and the University of Oregon School of Law.
He worked in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office from 1999 - 2007.
Michael Schmidt, executive director of the state’s Criminal Justice Resource Commission, also said he’s exploring a run.
“I spoke to Rod this morning when he sent out the email,” Schmidt said.
Underhill serves as a commissioner on the CJRC, which researches and collects data on the state’s criminal justice system. Schmidt has led the agency since 2015.
Schmidt worked in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office from 2008 to 2013. He’s also spent a session as the legislative counsel to the state House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
Schmidt grew up in upstate New York and attended Lewis and Clark Law School.
“We can be a lot smarter on public safety,” he said. “If I was to run, I would … try to get at the root cause of what is causing crime.”
Another Assistant U.S. Attorney, Donna Maddux also confirmed she is running for the seat. Currently, she prosecutes white color fraud and tax crimes.
“It’s an extraordinary time for Multnomah County, because criminal justice reform and dealing with the mental health crisis are going to be some of the top issues,” she said. “I’m interested in advancing the dialogue on this.”
Maddux spent 10 years at the Oregon Department of Justice where she worked in the medical fraud unit. Before that she prosecuted organized crime. She was also was part of the 2009 investigation into former Portland Mayor Sam Adams over his controversial relationship with a young male legislative intern. Previously, Maddux served on the Tualatin City Council, but now lives in Multnomah County.
“There are two models of criminal justice reform…: the barn burner and the other is the consensus builder,” Maddux said. “I see myself as the consensus builder.”
Groups like the ACLU are likely to see the race as a chance to push for criminal justice reform.
“Voters will have a chance to make sure that the next DA focuses on reducing incarceration, ending racial disparities, holding police accountable for misconduct, and being fully transparent,” ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Rogers said in a statement.
The primary is May 2020. If no candidate wins majority support, a runoff would take place in November 2020.