PUBLIC PROFILE: David Orr for Jackson County Circuit Court Judge
Rogue Valley Messenger: Outside of your professional experience what sets you apart, at the personal level, from the other Jackson County Circuit Court Judge candidates?
David Orr: My unique life experiences give me perspectives that very few judicial candidates are likely to have. I did not come from a privileged background. I’ve experienced poverty and other challenges in my younger years; at one point I lived out of my car. I started college as a “non-traditional student” at the age of 23 and worked my way through college and law school as a laborer.
On a lighter note, I think I’m probably the only candidate who plays in a jazz band! My wife, Melissa, and I have been performing with the Bathtub Gin Serenaders since 2010.
RVM: You’ve run unsuccessfully in the past. What makes you hopeful for this year?
D.O.: In the past, I ran against incumbents. This time, there’s an open seat. Many people are unaware that Oregon’s constitution states that judges are to be elected by voters, but the great majority of them are actually appointed to office, and later re-elected in uncontested elections. This is true not only for our local circuit court judges, but also for the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court. Here’s how this happens: when judges approach retirement, they resign before reaching the end of their term. This allows the governor to appoint a replacement, under a provision of law designed to address situations in which a deceased or incapacitated judge needs to be replaced quickly. In practice, however, many retiring judges purposely choose not to complete their final term, so that the governor can appoint their successor and circumvent the electoral process. As a result, most judges are not elected by the citizens, they are chosen by the governor.
Despite the fact that I ran against incumbents, my previous races were very close. I received 47.6 percent of the votes in 2012.
RVM: What experience do you have for this position?
D.O.: I began my legal career 23 years ago, as a public defender. As a new lawyer, I felt a calling to challenge the government’s power over the people. Serving as a defense lawyer was the most direct way I could leap into the fray. I was particularly interested in litigation that tested the legal limits of police actions, such as use of force on citizens, and search and seizure. That job also brought me to believe that all judges should have the experience of working as a defense attorney, in order to understand what it’s like for an individual citizen to face off against the machinery of the state.
Since 2003, I’ve been serving Jackson County as a deputy district attorney and have experienced the justice system from the perspective of those who are victimized by crime. From 2007 to 2012 I was assigned to prosecute crimes against children. This was by far the most heartbreaking and critically important responsibility I have ever undertaken. This type of crime is more common than we’d like to think.
For the past three years, I’ve been assigned to prosecute adult sex abuse crimes, and I currently serve on the Jackson County’s SART (Sexual Assault Response Team). Prosecuting these types of cases has raised my awareness about the kind of criminal who preys on the vulnerable.
RVM: Why does that experience make you a good fit for Jackson County?
D.O.: It is no secret that we have a growing crime problem in Jackson County that affects an increasing number of people. The overwhelming majority of jury trials in our county are criminal cases. A judge should have balanced experience from both sides of the criminal justice system in order to rule fairly and effectively in these cases. My experience as a prosecutor and a defense attorney uniquely qualify me to fairly evaluate both sides of every case.