In his first couple of months on the job, though, Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty seems to be channeling most of his zeal into going after county employees and local journalists.
It all started when The Bulletin put in a request for copies of the job applications and résumés of the new assistant district attorneys and other staffers Flaherty has hired since taking over. It was a perfectly legitimate request; the public has a right to know the qualifications and backgrounds of people who are being paid with its tax dollars. Since the request was legitimate, the county complied.
For some mysterious reason - maybe because The Bulletin endorsed his opponent, veteran incumbent Mike Dugan - Flaherty seems to have interpreted the records request as a personal assault.
Claiming that county employees broke the law by releasing the information, Flaherty launched a full-blown grand jury investigation.
So far he's subpoenaed four county employees - legal counsel Mark Pilliod, assistant legal counsel Chris Bell, information technology director Joe Sadony and legal assistant Georgia Springer - to testify. He also subpoenaed Hillary Borrud, the Bulletin reporter who made the initial records request. To her credit she refused to comply, citing the Oregon Shield Law's protection of reporters and their sources.
What's the deep, dark criminal conspiracy that Flaherty is trying to unmask? He doesn't seem exactly sure himself. First he claimed the release of all the information The Bulletin asked for was illegal and demanded the return of all of it. Then he said it was only the release of personal data such as home addresses, phone numbers and driver's license numbers that he had a problem with.
Even there, it looks like Flaherty is on less than solid legal ground. Oregon's public records law says a public agency may withhold such information, but it doesn't say it's a crime to release it.
So now we have an expensive and time-consuming grand jury process underway, four county employees living with the threat of indictments hanging over their heads, a possible court battle between the DA's office and The Bulletin looming ... and for what? Pilliod or somebody else might have made a mistake in releasing some personal information, but it's impossible to see how any of this rises to the level of a crime - much less a crime that warrants a full-bore prosecutorial crusade.
We're willing to cut Flaherty a little slack because he's relatively new to public office, and we know that dealing with the news media can be difficult and unsettling for somebody who's not used to it. But if Flaherty is going to win and keep the confidence not only of the media but also of his own staff and the public that elected him, he's going to have to grow a thicker and tougher hide on his posterior - and fast.
To encourage the development of it, we're applying THE BOOT.