Top brass at the Medford Police Department attempted to have a sitting Jackson County Circuit Court judge barred from hearing their cases on the day he dismissed citations police gave Shenanigan's Irish Pub employees for allegedly serving alcohol to drunken patrons during a May undercover operation.
Then-Chief Randy Schoen and then-Deputy Chief Tim George sent emails to Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston asking him to take legal action to remove Judge Tim Barnack from MPD cases.
Barnack on May 26 dismissed citations issued to three bartenders of Shenanigan's, a five-bar complex in downtown Medford, for allegedly serving drinks to visibly impaired customers on April 30 and May 1.
Schoen wrote to Huddleston complaining about Barnack's ruling, questioning the judge's actions regarding other recent cases and asking the district attorney to file an "affidavit of prejudice with the court to remove Judge Barnack from hearing MPD cases," Schoen wrote.
Barnack is a former senior Jackson County prosecutor who campaigned on a "tough on crime" platform and was elected in November 2008.
Barnack said Tuesday he believes "it is important to hold those accountable for the offenses they commit." But no one from the district attorney's office or the MPD spoke before he made his May 26 ruling, Barnack said.
"If there were concerns regarding a person or establishment, this should have been brought to the court's attention," Barnack said.
Schoen wrote that MPD had been dealing with complaints, assaults and disorderly conduct related to Shenanigan's for more than two years and that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission had expressed "a guilty verdict on our charges would help them" administratively cite the bar for overserving.
Huddleston, who provided the emails to the Mail Tribune after a public records request, said Monday he declined to proceed "against a sitting criminal court judge with a huge caseload."
"It was something I looked at with a lot of thought," Huddleston said. "I didn't feel it was appropriate." He added such a request was rare.
Huddleston said he contacted the state Department of Justice to discuss filing an appeal to overturn Barnack's ruling and reinstate the citations. But he dropped the effort after being told the chances of that were slim, Huddleston said.
Tim George, who became Medford police chief this month after Schoen retired, also fired off emails on May 26. George expressed dismay that Barnack would dismiss the cases without input from the prosecutors.
He also said a detective within his department was "embarrassed" to be in the courtroom when Barnack is presiding over child abuse cases, saying Barnack insults prosecutors and makes "things hard on their case in open court."
"There has been more than one conversation here at MPD concerning this Judges' (sic) ability to be un-biased in criminal cases," George wrote.
On Tuesday afternoon, George would not discuss the details of the letters he wrote to the prosecutors' office, which he said were not meant for public viewing, out of "respect for Judge Barnack."
"We vented our frustration and concerns in letters to (Mark Huddleston)," George said, adding the district attorney's decision not to proceed with their request is a decision "we will have to live with."
"We move forward," George said.
In June, Barnack came under fire from child advocacy groups and others for allowing the defense to set up a bed in a courtroom and have a 10-year-old girl testify about alleged sexual abuse while standing next to the mattress.
"I have increasingly received reports from our Detectives about how Judge Barnack will allow improper testimony by defense witnesses and inappropriate questioning by the defense of child victims," Schoen wrote. "We are hearing complaints from the Children's Advocacy Center involving Judge Barnack's Courtroom procedure and how children victims are further being victimized."
The Measure 11 first-degree sex abuse trial against Sunshine Bucy ended in a hung jury. Bucy has hired a new defense attorney. And Barnack has recused himself from the retrial.
"In the interest of justice and the protection of victims we need to have a mature and responsible judge hearing these cases that operates under the rule of law and not by his own prejudices and emotions," Schoen wrote.
Barnack said Tuesday that both the defense and the prosecution are entitled to a fair trial, adding he was disappointed the defense and the prosecutors commented in the media about a pending case.
"It can have an adverse effect on pending jurors and is unfair to all parties involved," Barnack said.
Schoen said he spoke with Barnack shortly before he retired. The two discussed the Shenanigan's case and other issues. Schoen said Barnack shared his own frustrations about moving from the prosecutors' office and onto the bench. While they didn't necessarily reach an accord, Schoen said Barnack is "passionate about trying to do a good job as a judge," adding he regrets sending the letter to Huddleston before speaking with Barnack.
"I guess you could say I should 'first seek to understand and then to be understood,' " Schoen said.
Barnack said he stands by his record.
"The public entrusted me to make rulings on cases that appear in front of me. These rulings are available to the public upon request," he said.
George remains concerned about the citation dismissals. George said while the bar's owners have worked with police, MPD is still receiving complaints about the bar, which he said "has the highest DUII arrests in the state," though that could not immediately be confirmed.
"We have spent considerable time, energy and effort with the owner of Shenanigan's," George said. "We appreciate the cooperation of Shenanigan's. But that doesn't mean they are in compliance. Their numbers are still way above average."
Shenanigan's co-owner and operations manager Lorrie Petersen said she spoke before Barnack at the hearing and detailed the efforts she has made to comply with the OLCC and with MPD.
"I think his ruling was fair," Petersen said.
Shenanigan's numbers are high because she and her partner, Bruce Brown, hold one liquor license that covers their five bars, which are located in four adjacent buildings and one outside drinking area, Petersen said.
"I employ 60- to 70-plus people," she said. "We give people a lot of jobs in a bad economy."
Shenanigan's bartenders attend classes to learn how to recognize the signs of intoxication. The owners have established dress and conduct codes and signed on with several shuttle and taxi services to drive customers who may have had too much to drink.
"We're a bar," she said. "We're not a church. People come here to drink."
Petersen said she is eager to work with MPD to continue to improve the situation.
"I've told my bartenders they'd better be on their game," she said. "I don't want our police department to think for one minute that I don't want to work with them, or appreciate them."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.