The trouble with Flaherty

John Costa / The Bulletin /


Published Apr 24, 2011 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

It must be hard being District Attorney Patrick Flaherty.

Imagine seeing enemies at every turn who, through no provocation or fault of your own, are ready to strike.

With evil lurking, there is no time for compromise or communication.

Opponents must be crushed.

So, fire the ungrateful workers, reward political cronies, besmirch county officials, drag the ingrates before a grand jury and insult the state Bar.

If that doesn’t work, trash the sanctity of the grand jury process itself.

And if that fails, blame the newspaper — in this case The Bulletin — for your troubles.

And all over what?

In the grand scheme of things, little or nothing.

Leaving aside the union movement he has prompted in the District Attorney’s office and the multimillion-dollar wrongful dismissal lawsuit he has dumped in the taxpayers’ lap, just consider the latest explosion from Flaherty.

After he was elected, but before he took office, the district attorney-elect made it known that the services of several existing prosecutors would no longer be required.

This came despite his seeming commitment during the campaign to give everyone a chance to work with him.

In any case, Flaherty set out to fill those spots with his own hires, which, as The Bulletin acknowledged, was perfectly his right.

In fact, The Bulletin editorially recommended — something Flaherty and his supporters conveniently forget — that the county not recognize the union and give the new DA a chance to work with the employees.

But when he began to fill these and other positions, The Bulletin wanted to know the qualifications of the new public workers.

So we asked the county for any information it had on the hires, which is something news organizations do every day all across the nation. In Oregon, as in most states, it is a privilege granted by law.

Why?

We taxpayers employ these public workers.

What we are looking for in their backgrounds is any information related to their capacity to do the job we pay them for. We are not looking for personal material unrelated to work.

When Deschutes County gave us the information we requested, it released phone numbers, addresses and drivers’ license numbers that could have been legitimately redacted.

That set off Flaherty, who subpoenaed our reporter and county officials to a grand jury, cost the county and The Bulletin thousands of dollars, and in the end received a letter of regret from County Attorney Mark Pilliod. I should add Flaherty secured $100 in costs from Pilliod.

Then an anonymous complaint was filed against Flaherty with the Bar, alleging that the district attorney used the grand jury process to settle a personal score — and off we went again.

This time it’s The Bulletin or one of its “agents” who lurked behind the complaint, leading the Bar by the nose.

How else, Flaherty asked, would we have known about the complaint before he had been notified?

Well, sir, you could have called and asked.

I would have been happy to inform you that we have a Salem reporter who regularly checks with the Bar and other such agencies for filings and has been doing so long before you became the district attorney.

I would also have informed you that we have phone numbers, e-mail and other addresses for prosecutors, police officials and myriad other public workers, given to us by them for contact on important stories.

And not in the 14 years that I have been editor have we published that information.

But even if you had called, there is one thing I can’t explain.

I can’t for the life of me explain how a person in your position breaks the seal of confidentiality that is supposed to surround grand jury proceedings and declares, as you did this week, that in your estimation the jurors thought Pilliod broke the law, even though they did not formally accuse him.

That’s below the dignity of the job the voters gave you.