Nov. 25—The Jackson County District Attorney blocked Circuit Court Judge David Orr from hearing any of her office’s cases last year, she testified Tuesday during a Medford law firm’s hearing seeking to remove the same judge from its docket of family law cases.
District Attorney Beth Heckert provided never-before publicized details Tuesday about why she requested Orr’s disqualification in July last year from any and all cases prosecuted by her office — virtually all criminal cases filed in Jackson County Circuit Court — after being subpoenaed as a witness in RISE Law Group of Medford’s recusal hearing seeking to remove Orr from 14 family law cases.
Much of Heckert’s testimony drew from a July 26, 2021, disqualification notice Heckert submitted to Presiding Judge Lorenzo Mejia that alerted him “beginning immediately, the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office will move to disqualify Judge David Orr on all matters in which my office is a party.”
“I just didn’t believe the state would get a fair and impartial trial under Judge Orr,” Heckert testified Tuesday, describing it as a first in her 34 years practicing law.
According to Heckert’s disqualification notice, a copy of which was obtained by the Mail Tribune, the removal was a decision Heckert didn’t make lightly.
“As District Attorney, I take this position with a great deal of regret … Unfortunately, I do not believe that crime victims, law enforcement officers, my attorneys or even the accused can receive a fair hearing or impartial trial before Judge Orr,” Heckert’s three-page letter states in part.
Orr disputed whether her decision was truly unprecedented during the Tuesday hearing presided over by Judge Pro Tem Paul Moser. Orr worked as a Deputy DA from 2003 until his election in 2018, meaning Orr reported to Heckert for roughly five years after her 2013 election.
Orr pressed her under oath about when he worked in her office and how they’d had previous discussions about recusing Circuit Court Judge Tim Barnack.
“I remember hearing that,” Heckert said.
She said her deputy DAs have returned from hearings with complaints about “pretty much every judge” over the years. She said she explains to them the need for numerous incidents to build a case for recusal.
Heckert listed in the disqualification notice five specific cases that Orr allegedly mishandled. Some of Orr’s decisions negatively impacted her office; others negatively impacted defendants’ cases.
Heckert described one drug case in which Orr reportedly released police records to the defense about an internal police investigation in a MADGE traffic stop drug case “even though he found they did not meet the standard of being exculpatory.” Heckert said it forced her office to resolve the case with a plea deal that was a “considerable reduction of the original offer.”
Orr stated the case in question involved two Medford officers who seized evidence at a traffic stop. One officer turned in the drug evidence that night at the end of the shift; another officer turned in cash evidence the following day.
The suspect said some cash was missing and passed a polygraph. Orr indirectly indicated corruption through a line of thinly veiled hypothetical questions about the wife of a then- deputy DA handling the internal investigation at Medford police
Heckert described another case in which Orr improperly severed a husband-and-wife illicit marijuana case because the husband wanted to represent himself — a decision Mejia later reversed.
In a trial on a drug case held Nov. 24, 2020, Heckert said, Orr sustained numerous improper objections and wouldn’t allow her deputies to respond.
“At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Orr said he made poor decisions for the State — he sustained objections by the defense, even though the defense did not state an accurate basis,” Heckert wrote.
Orr cross-examined Heckert line by line in her letter Tuesday, asking which part was grounds for his recusal.
“I wouldn’t have recused a judge based on the individual examples,” Heckert testified. “It’s the cumulative effect.”
What drove her to disqualify him, she testified, was his handling of a multiday sex abuse trial in June 2021 involving defendant David Lee Martin of Medford. A jury reached a verdict on witness tampering charges, but not on a first-degree sex abuse charge.
“Judge Orr ultimately declared a mistrial and did not receive the verdicts on the tampering charge,” Heckert wrote. “He stated he believed he could accept the verdict, but he did not feel comfortable accepting the verdict.”
As of Wednesday, the Martin case is still pending with no new trial yet scheduled.
“Not accepting the verdict was really the final straw for me,” Heckert testified.
Also subpoenaed was defense lawyer Justin Rosas, who sought Orr’s recusal from at least 50 cases in December 2020, but he didn’t show.
Late in the afternoon Tuesday, after a witness referenced a Dec. 12, 2020, Mail Tribune article about Rosas’ request to remove Orr, RISE Law Firm lawyer Garrett Ramsey asked Judge Moser to enforce the order.
“If you wanted me to get a sheriff’s deputy to get a witness, maybe 9:30 would’ve been the time,” Moser said, pointing at the clock.
Orr told the court if Rosas is called to the stand, he plans to subpoena about a dozen deputy DAs for their opinion of Rosas.
Under Oregon law, the law office only needs to prove the request for a different judge was made in good faith.
When questioning the woman who’d read the article about Rosas, Orr asked her, “Do you think every criminal defense lawyer is ethical and honest?”
Orr explained how he used to prosecute sex offenders and child abusers, and how Rosas defended some of them. He asked if that would make her reconsider.
The woman acknowledged, “the internet isn’t always truthful getting all facts.”
Ramsey claimed Orr’s response “was basically a series of hypotheticals.”
With minimal legal precedent for the recusal hearing — which started last Thursday and continued for nine hours Tuesday — there was significant confusion as to what Orr’s role was during the hearing. At times, he acted as lawyer cross-examining witnesses; other times he acted as a witness himself.
As a judge himself, Orr was free to leave the counsel table and come and go from the courtroom as other witnesses testified.
Mary Ries testified in the hearing that Orr’s demeanor in court — describing eye rolls and other visible signs of exasperation — among the reasons she feels she can’t have a fair trial in his court.
“The behavior in the court is so intimidating to me,” Ries said.
Ries testified she hasn’t missed a hearing in her family court case, even when her presence isn’t required and with mere hours of notice.
“This is my life,” Ries said. “Everything that happens in this courtroom impacts my life and my future.”
She testified how unusual it is for her case to be tied with 13 other unrelated cases. She voiced frustration at the stop-and-go process of gathering herself to testify, then to have hearings to be delayed or rescheduled at a moment’s notice.
“I feel like I’m a little person in this big court system,” Ries testified. “I feel like I don’t have a voice.”
In cross-examining Ries, Orr sought to indicate her attorneys had a role in her delays. Many of his cross-examinations of RISE Law Group clients saw objections for violating attorney-client privilege.
RISE Law Group lawyer Jamie Hazlett took the stand to testify why she believed she couldn’t have a fair trial.
Orr played video of the Oct. 26 hearing in which Hazlett and co-counsel Maryanne Pitcher sought to recuse Judge Benjamin Bloom, which Hazlett described as a “verbal assault.”
According to courtroom audio, Bloom responded to allegations of impropriety by standing up and vehemently shouting statements that included, “I’m offended beyond belief,” “It’s insulting to my core,” “If I raise my voice, I apologize,” and “I’ve never been anything but fair to litigants.”
Hazlett described an altercation that lasted “minutes,” but Orr brought out courtroom security footage showing the incident lasted closer to 20 seconds.
“It was intimidating. … Our client was sobbing,” Hazlett testified.
Orr argued the lawyers had already worked her up to tears on the witness stand.
Orr pressed Hazlett line by line on Bloom’s statements about which part was a “verbal assault” until Moser cut him off.
“I understand what you’re doing,” Moser said. “She’s basically saying the totality of the circumstances constitute a verbal assault.”
“This point-by-point is wasting time.”
Orr took the stand under oath after 5 p.m. Tuesday and brought in courthouse security video as evidence. Moser ultimately cut off the all-day hearing after hours because he had a trial Wednesday.
Orr asked whether another judge could cover for him. Moser made an exasperated gesture at the clock showing close to 6:30.
“I don’t even know if we have a clerk tomorrow,” Moser said.
The hearing will continue at 1:30 p.m. Monday, when Ramsey is expected to cross-examine Orr after taking the stand.
Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.