Faced with the decision of hiring a former prosecutor or a defense attorney as the next municipal judge, the Pendleton City Council sided with the prosecution.
The council voted to appoint Monte Ludington, a former deputy district attorney for Umatilla County and an attorney with Pendleton firm O’Hanlon Law Offices, to replace Judge Will Perkinson, who will resign in June as he moves to Canada.
With Mayor John Turner getting a rare vote and Councilor Dale Primmer recusing himself because of his job at Umatilla County Community Corrections, the council found itself deadlocked 4-4 when it came to choosing either Ludington or Pendleton defense attorney Kittee Custer.
The stalemate broke following impromptu testimony from Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts, who was asked for his thoughts by Councilor Paul Chalmers.
“I don’t think you’ll go wrong with either one,” he said before making an argument in favor of Ludington. “But I think, in terms of mere reputation and aptitude and grasp of the law … there’s really no comparison.”
Roberts added that Custer may have to recuse herself often because the broad pool of clients she represented in the past could come before the court, forcing the court to bring in a judge pro tem and affecting consistency.
When Turner polled the council again, councilors Becky Marks and Carole Innes switched to supporting Ludington while councilors Scott Fairley and McKennon McDonald voted against.
With the city council chambers doubling as municipal court during the day, Custer and Ludington each made their pitch in the room they hoped to preside over.
But the council’s questions, the candidates’ answers, and most of the council’s deliberations were sealed off from the public because the council decided to convene in executive session, which was a change from the last time the council selected a municipal judge.
City Attorney Nancy Kerns said a committee comprised of Turner, the city’s human resources department and other staff sifted through a candidate pool and selected Ludington and Custer as finalists.
Kerns said the committee made the decision to restrict the interviews to executive session to ensure the candidates gave candid answers.
Although their answers weren’t subject to public scrutiny, both candidates are mainstays in the Pendleton legal community.
Ludington was a deputy district attorney for Umatilla County for eight years before taking a job with O’Hanlon earlier this year. Prior to coming to the county, Ludington also worked for the district attorney’s office in Union and Klamath counties and in private practice.
His first year in Umatilla County, Ludington applied to be appointed district attorney, a position that ultimately went to Dan Primus.
According to his LinkedIn page, Ludington has a bachelor’s degree in business from Oregon State University and a law degree from Willamette University.
According to an attorney bio, Custer started practicing law in Pendleton in 2000, specializing in criminal defense, dependency, family law, and Social Security disability before becoming of counsel for Milton-Freewater law firm Monahan, Grove & Tucker in 2016.
Ludington and Custer emerged from a pool that included Peter O’Connell, Pendleton attorneys Calvin Souther and William Jones, Hermiston attorney Phillip Spicer-Kuhn, and Thomas Creasing, who was looking to become Pendleton’s judge on top of being the elected municipal judge of Hermiston.
In Pendleton, the municipal court judge is a part-time position that oversees a court that deals with cases like ordinance violations, traffic violations, and some misdemeanors.
The municipal court is not a court of record, meaning any defendant can appeal their case to circuit court and receive a different decision.