After warning that he planned to make some changes when he took office, the new district for Deschutes County in central Oregon has fired five prosecutors.
BEND — After warning that he planned to make some changes when he took office, the new district attorney for Deschutes County in Central Oregon has fired five prosecutors.
District Attorney Pat Flaherty was sworn in Monday, and the firings were one of his first official acts, The Bulletin newspaper reported.
It also was the first day on the job for new Chief Deputy District Attorney Traci Anderson, whom Flaherty hired from the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office in Portland to replace one of the prosecutors he fired, former Chief Deputy District Attorney Darryl Nakahira.
Nakahira said Monday that he has accepted a temporary job as legal counsel for the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, because the sheriff's attorney is on medical leave.
Flaherty said Monday after he was sworn in that he will now be able to communicate freely with his employees. Flaherty did not return calls seeking comment on the firings and his transition.
One prosecutor who was let go — Phil Duong — has said Flaherty previously told Duong that he would remain in his job once Flaherty took office.
But on Dec. 20, Flaherty e-mailed letters to Duong and three other deputy district attorneys, telling them they would lose their jobs when he took office.
Over the summer, Flaherty also sent a letter to Nakahira, informing him that Flaherty did not plan to employ him in the new year.
On Dec. 21, Deschutes County sent the prosecutors e-mails informing them that, until formal termination action was taken by the district attorney, they remained on the payroll and were expected to observe county policy regarding hours of work and reporting time.
On Dec. 22, Flaherty sent a letter to the prosecutors, telling them their jobs would end on Dec. 31 and they should clean out their offices and return any government property issued to them by Dec. 30.
At his swearing in on Monday, Flaherty directed most of his comments to prosecutors and other employees of the district attorney's office.
"The DA's office is not meant to be a bureaucratic institution," Flaherty said.
"The DA's office is a law firm and like all law firms, it needs to be a meritocracy, not a bureaucracy. And you know, change happens frequently in law firms; it's almost routine. And it presents both an opportunity and a challenge."
It was unclear Monday how Flaherty plans to handle cases that were assigned to the five prosecutors who were terminated.
Andrew Altschul, a defense attorney in one of those cases, said the terminations were "improperly motivated."
"I think it's union-busting," Altschul said, referring to the Deschutes County Deputy District Attorneys Association.
The union formed in September. Its main goal was to negotiate a contract with Deschutes County that could prevent deputy district attorneys from being disciplined or fired without cause.
The union pushed for the Deschutes County Commission to vote on whether to ratify the agreement by the end of the year. But in mid-December, the commission voted unanimously to delay that decision until Jan. 12, after Flaherty took office.