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A home of one’s own

John Bradbury

John Bradbury

Yesterday Multnomah County Sheriff Bob Skipper said that he will resign from that job effective in a couple of months because he failed to pass a test which he had to take – under state law – like that administered to newly-minted cops, on law enforcement. Skipper, who had to take it because he had been away from law enforcement for a number of years before agreeing to take over the troubled department a couple of years ago, led it successfully for many years and capably in his recent stretch. The test, which has to do mainly with beat cop work, has little to do with the Multnomah Sheriff’s Office, which mostly runs the county’s jail.

The Oregonian this morning commented that “in other words, Bob Skipper is being pushed out of a job for which he was duly and overwhelmingly elected because he doesn’t have a basic certificate that is more or less irrelevant to his actual job.” It is happening not because of any political battle, but simply because that’s the way the law is. Which suggests more problem with the law than with Skipper

The case, and that latter point, come to mind in reading the Idaho Supreme Court decision out today in John Bradbury v. Idaho Judicial Council, an unusual case of a lawsuit between a district judge and the state’s judicial oversight board.

John Bradbury, a Lewiston who became a 2nd district judge in 2003, was elected to the judicial seat for Idaho County, though his actual judicial work would range elsewhere too, as to Lewiston, Moscow, Orofino and Nezperce. He bought a house in Grangeville, the Idaho County seat, and changed his voter registration from Lewiston to Grangeville.

In May 2006 the Judicial Council started an investigation into whether he really lived in Idaho County. (Of note: Bradbury has run crosswise with a number of people and institutions around Idaho law, having once sued the Judicial Council in 1998 and run, nearly winning, for the Idaho Supreme Court in 2008. Bradbury maintains that key people in the system were prejudiced against him, but we’ll bypass that argument here.) While acknowledging he had a home in Grangeville, had a homeowner’s exemption on it and voted there, it also said that “he spent practically none of his nights in Grangeville, or, that in the prior six (6) months he had spent fewer than ten (10) evenings in Grangeville.” Bradbury acknowledge in one interview that he spent few evenings in Grangeville, licensed his cars in Lewiston and got his personal mail there. The Judicial Council proposed to suspend Bradbury until he “resides” in Grangeville. Bradbury appealed.

So what it mean to “reside” in a specific place?

The Supreme Court decision has a section on the etymology and explanation of “actually reside” that runs back through territorial days. The current state law on the subject, the decision said, intends “district judges to ‘actually reside’ at their resident chambers. It is rather clear the Legislature wanted district judges to live in the county where their resident chambers were located and to be a part of that community.” (Although what that would mean is unclear, since judges are supposed to be – in usual practice – semi-cloistered from their communities.)

The problem is that this is about as specific as the decision could get in working out where Bradbury crossed the line – as it says he did. It concluded that “The evidence in the record indicates that he has not been actually residing in Idaho County for some time and this must change,” but seemed to rely more on an accumulation of bits and pieces (how many nights spent at Lewiston versus Grangeville, for example) than on a clear threshold which he violated. He was ordered to become a proper Idaho County resident within 21 days; but the order didn’t say what exactly he had to do to meet that standard. Would spending four nights a week in Grangeville do the job, or must it be five? Does he get to vacation in Lewiston? Do the cars have to be relicensed in Grangeville? How about just one of them?

Pro tem Justice Wayne Kidwell, who wrote a partial dissent, noted first that there’s no allegation Bradbury hadn’t been doing his job, and that while having a home in his base county is required, “having two or more homes in Idaho is not precluded.”

The question here, somewhat like that surrounding Bob Skipper in Portland, is: Why is this a problem? In territorial days, the distance between Lewiston and Grangeville (about 70 miles) would be enough to isolate a judge from one or the other; it surely wouldn’t now.

Might be something for the Idaho Legislature to take a look at, next time around.

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