Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus last week started pushing to block Circuit Court Judge Eva Temple from presiding over new criminal cases.
It’s an exceedingly rare action that has court administrators and local law enforcement questioning how the circuit court’s caseload will be handled.
Court records show Primus’ requests are for new felony and misdemeanor cases alike. The supporting affidavit for the motions asserts the following: “The state moves the court to appoint a judge other than the Honorable Judge Eva Temple in this matter because the state believes that it cannot have a fair and impartial trial or hearing before such judge.”
Circuit Judge Christopher Brauer, the presiding judge in the judicial district, has granted the disqualifications.
Primus said he stands by the affidavit and described the action as among the most difficult he has made in his seven years in office. He said he spoke to half a dozen fellow district attorneys and consulted with local law enforcement and others before moving to disqualify the judge.
“I also understand the magnitude of the decision,” he said. “But I have a duty and obligation as district attorney to make sure individuals receive a fair and impartial decision.”
Primus, however, would not point to specific problems he and his office have with the judge. His office in 2016 filed a complaint against Temple after she told a client in drug court at that time to learn how to look for police in bars, and be careful what they say on jail phones because deputy district attorneys have nothing better to do than listen to those recordings.
Temple told the East Oregonian Tuesday that judicial ethics prevent her from commenting on active cases and the district attorney’s motions.
The 6th Judicial District, with five judges, encompasses Umatilla and Morrow counties and has courthouses in Pendleton, Hermiston and Heppner. Roy Blaine is the trial court coordinator for the district. He said Primus is filing the motions one case at a time, each time in the early stages of prosecution.
“If a judge makes what we call a substantive ruling, then it’s too late (to disqualify them),” Blaine said, though he added there are some exceptions.
Temple will continue to preside over civil cases in Umatilla County.
Morrow County District Attorney Justin Nelson said he disqualified Temple from a case last year but has no plans to file future requests to disqualify. The district’s five judges hear Morrow County cases on a rotational basis, and Nelson said he confirmed with state courts that the situation in Umatilla County should not affect that rotation.
Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said he could not recall a similar action against one judge in his 21 years of law enforcement. He said Primus told him he was filing the motions, which could mean Hermiston police will travel more often to Pendleton for criminal court matters.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski in January 2011 appointed Temple to the circuit court bench, one of his last acts before leaving office. Gov. John Kitzhaber in August of that same year appointed Primus as district attorney. Primus has run unopposed in elections since. Temple ran unopposed in her first election in May.
Blaine is out of the office this week but said he and Brauer need to discuss what the freeze-out means for the court’s schedule and the other judges.