By Curt Chancler & Jeanne Wollman
Municipal courts are created in the image of the incorporated towns and cities they serve. These courts are created to administer the laws, codes and ordinances of their particular locale. From all appearances Municipal Courts are the bastard child of the legal system. They are obviously important to the community but it seems that no one wants to take oversight responsibility. In fact, the general opinion of most is that they are run as nothing more than a “profit center” for the city they serve.
Originally they were created to take the pressure and workload off the circuit courts who did not wish to administer local laws, city ordinances and traffic fines. Generally municipal Courts are not courts of record. However, Circuit Courts have appellate review over municipal Court decisions.
It is interesting to note that while they are created and funded by the town or city in which they are located the city government, due to constitutional separation of powers, cannot oversee the court if it oversteps legal or ethical issues.
These courts are created by constitutional provisions and state statutes. The judges of these courts in many municipalities are hired and not elected. Is it possible for a “hired” judge to be an impartial trier of facts when he can be fired by those that hired him?
This is the issue that faces two small towns in Oregon. Don Alvin Leahan was hired by the towns of Butte Falls and Gold Hill as their Municipal Judge. It is beginning to appear that Judge Leahan is not living up to his oath to “faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of a judge of this state.” Or did he ever take an Oath of Office? Upon seeking to look at Leahan’s personnel file the US~Observer was informed by city recorder Mary Goddard that she would first have to consult city attorney Steve Rich. We were later informed that there wasn’t anything in the file that we requested to look at that was public record. It should be noted that Leahan is currently an appointed judge, however the city does require judges to be elected and Leahan will have to run for his position at the next general election.
October, 2005 found Leahan actively and vocally participating, in concert with Medford Mail Tribune reporter Sanne Specht, in a scathing attack on Gold Hill’s Police Chief Dean Muchow. It was charged that the Chief, the Gold Hill City Council and even the police officers and reserves were close to racketeering if it could be proven that they were citing speeders into court just to raise money for the community. However, upon inquiry it was found that it was citizens requesting patrols in residential and school areas that prompted more police presence and citations. In spite of that Judge Leahan said if more than 55 cases came through his courtroom in one month he would dismiss some of those cases. This is a clear violation of judicial ethics.
Does overstepping his legal duties in Gold Hill, dictating how many traffic tickets can be written by Gold Hill Police, and meddling in city internal affairs create ethical problems for Judge Leahan?
Through our investigation of Leahan we found that he is also the Municipal Judge for the city of Butte Falls, Oregon. Recently at a Butte Falls café the Mayor of Butte Falls unwittingly told an off-duty police officer that Judge Leahan “was instrumental in convincing the Butte Falls City Council to hire the judge’s girlfriend, Linda Longfellow, as Code Enforcement Officer.” The Mayor also divulged that the judge drives around town looking for ordinance violations and then Code Enforcement Officer Longfellow, cites these violations and Judge Leahan adjudicates them. The question that arises from this discussion is, “Is that collusion by two or more city officials?”
In the course of this investigation it was found that four vehicles routinely located in the driveway of Longfellow’s Butte Falls residence are registered to Leahan using Longfellow’s address. It appears this is a clear violation of state law.
Judge Leahan’s driver’s license, other vehicles, and his business card advertising procurement and training of Law Enforcement Dogs, all show an Eagle Point address.
Does his association and involvement with the Butte Falls Code Enforcement officer and his use of two addresses—one of which is the home of the Code Enforcement Officer, again overstep the bounds of judicial ethics even at the municipal level.
When the Butte Falls City Recorder was contacted regarding these issues, she stated that the City Council had talked to their attorney and he reported there were no ethics violations related to Judge Leahan’s activities. Requests for phone numbers of City Council members and the Mayor have not been forthcoming. A message was also left for the City Attorney but at press time he has not responded.
However, in the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct, JR 1-101 it clearly states “that a judge shall observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity, impartiality and independence of the judiciary are preserved and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and the judicial system.”
It goes on to state that a judge “shall not engage in conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s character, competence, temperament or fitness to serve as a judge.” Also, “a judge shall not allow family, social or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.” This is to mention only a few of the six pages of judicial conduct governing a judge’s behavior.
It is reported that Judge Leahan received a DUI from the Oregon State Police. On the officer’s report the judge admitted drinking five or six drinks before driving. Also the OSP officer said the judge in an effort “to play on his sympathies” stated, “I realize I am in trouble here but could you give me a break as I am a retired Los Angeles police officer, my son is visiting from Arizona and I am recently divorced.” The report went on to say Leahan failed the field sobriety test and the breathalyzer recorded .13. Judge Leahan opted for the Diversion classes which he successfully completed.
It would appear that Judge Leahan has also had several speeding tickets and seat belt infractions in recent years. Surely these tickets coupled with his drunken driving charge prompted Leahan’s underhanded and unfounded attack on Gold Hill police officers and the legitimate tickets they have written.
When Constitutional and statutory infractions are being overlooked by those who should be monitoring his judicial behavior would it be appropriate for a Grand Jury to look into these accusations? It should also be noted that complaints can be made to Oregon Department of Judicial Fitness and the Department of Government Standards and Practices.
Anyone with information on Judge Don Alvin Leahan or his girlfriend and code enforcement officer Linda Longfellow are urged to contact the US~Observer at 541-474-7885.