Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel on Friday doubled down on a promise to cut the number of cases his office pursues if a $1.6 million budget request isn’t approved, saying he intends to stop prosecuting parole violations and misdemeanor driving while suspended cases.
The announcement occurred one week after Hummel gave his annual presentation to the County Commission’s Budget Committee in which he described a stark “untenable” situation at his office — revolving-door job turnover, low morale, unsatisfied victims and the most dangerous people in the community not being held accountable.
He cited a 15% increase in cases in 2017-18, which he said was due, in part, to more officers on patrol.
He asked for new services and 11 new full-time positions, including four prosecutors.
The committee pushed back on some points but ultimately proposed funding Hummel’s budget request by half, or, adding six full-time positions.
“In order to focus on keeping us safe from violent offenders, my office will focus on the most-critical cases,” Hummel said in a prepared statement. “It’s no longer acceptable to do everything at a mediocre level. To excel in the prosecution of serious cases some other less-essential services will be limited.”
In 2018, Hummel’s office prosecuted 500 misdemeanor driving while suspended cases. In most Oregon counties, low-level crimes like this are handled by municipal courts, which is what Hummel is proposing.
In 2018, Hummel’s staff prosecuted 700 parole violations. He said he’ll ask the county’s parole and probation department to handle more of these cases.
In addition to those proposed changes, Hummel wants his office to increase referrals of low-level cases to the court’s early disposition program, cease assisting crime victims who want to conceal their home addresses from offenders, close the public window during the lunch hour and eliminate the DUI Victim Impact Panel.
“I have targeted staffing and resources to have the least impact possible on public safety,” Hummel said. “The time for excellence in our office has arrived, and our community will be safer as a result.”
Not everyone is happy with Hummel’s plan.
Among the critics of Hummel’s proposal is Deschutes County Circuit Judge A. Michael Adler, who sat for an interview Friday ahead of his planned retirement June 30.
“I think he has a responsibility as the elected district attorney to prosecute the crimes in this county, and do what he needs to do to get them prosecuted,” Adler said. “If he needs to organize his office more efficiently then he should do so. I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to announce that he’s not going to prosecute certain classes of crimes because of a budget dispute he has with the county commissioners.”
Messages left with the Oregon District Attorneys Association were not returned. However, former association President Josh Marquis, a retired DA, was highly critical of Hummel’s plan.
“Deschutes County is now, and has always been, far better staffed than similar sized counties,” Marquis said. “True, it’s growing a lot, but his deputy-judge and deputy-population ratio would make other counties jealous.”
Marquis said Hummel’s five years in office has been too long to claim growing pains.
“Turnover is a direct reflection on the leader, absent terrible pay or working conditions, neither of which exist in Deschutes County,” Marquis said.
Bend public defender Tom Crabtree noted his attorneys have heavier caseloads than prosecutors in the Deschutes DA’s office — 307 cases per attorney, compared to about 200.
“I would be laughed at if I told the Office of Public Defense Services that I needed 11 new people to handle the existing caseload,” Crabtree said. “I’d be extremely grateful if I were given half of what increases I asked for.”
Crabtree’s firm, Crabtree & Rahmsdorff, handles more than 60% of public defense cases for the local circuit court. Its budget has increased 3.5% over the past five years.
“I would be celebrating the increase if I got what John got, not planning where to cut. John made a demand, now he has to back it up.”
Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair said the budget committee sought to meet Hummel halfway, by offering to transfer civil commitments from his office to the office of the county attorney.
They set a date with him to reevaluate his issues in six months.
“We tried to really help him,” she said.
Adair said Hummel’s staff would get a break if the Legislature funds an eighth judge position in Deschutes County, as the local trial court has requested this legislative session.
Trial Court Administrator Jeff Hall said a new judge would go a long way toward alleviating an increasing backlog in the local docket. He blamed the backlog on changes in the local caseload — not an increase in cases.
“It’s really the type of cases that makes a difference,” Hall said, noting some take longer to adjudicate.
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said his department has lately been pursuing more “livability” crimes, such as disorderly conduct and driving under the influence, in response to resident input. This focus has resulted in more police contacts with citizens, but Porter could not say whether there were notably more arrests as a result of new hires at the department.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org