Former DA takes on jobs he loves.
After 12 colorful years as Lane County's district attorney, Pat Horton opted not to seek a fourth term back in 1984, citing in part "never resolved" budget issues, political controversies and battles with "antagonists" of the office.
Memories of his frustration with that part of the job apparently faded over the next quarter- century, because Horton stepped back into the thick of such matters this year when he went to work for embattled Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty.
Horton actually had retired from practicing law altogether when he offered his assistance to a new DA roiled by controversy after firing five deputy district attorneys.
Horton retired as a private trial lawyer 10 years ago to sell Central Oregon commercial real estate, he said in a recent interview.
"My timing on that was great," he joked wryly.
He said he'd never met Flaherty when his wife read about the brouhaha and said, "Boy, you should go down there and talk to him!'"
Horton, still fit and feisty at 69, did so.
"We talked a little bit, and it was decided that I would come down and help out with his budget and management issues," Horton said. "I thought it would be fun. Here I am in the twilight of my career and I could get back into something I always loved more than anything."
But his stint back in a prosecutor's office didn't wind up being that much fun, Horton said. He resigned last month, after Flaherty drew more criticism for subpoenaing a Bend newspaper reporter, for allegedly using a grand jury to investigate a political enemy, and for a wrongful discharge lawsuit filed against the county by three of the fired former prosecutors.
"Suffice it to say that we had a difference of opinion about management styles, techniques and how the office should conduct itself," said Horton, who was known here for his willingness to disagree publicly with such traditional prosecution allies as police.
Most famously, he stood down then-Lane County Sheriff Dave Burks over when to file murder charges against ultimately convicted child killer Diane Downs. The shooting of her three young children shocked the community and drew national media scrutiny, so Burks was under tremendous pressure to arrest a suspect, Horton acknowledged.
"But I told him, 'We've got one chance at proving this case, and we're gonna do it right.' I was determined to wait for (Downs' wounded elder daughter) Christy to recover enough to testify."
The girl did so, telling a jury that her mother was the shooter.
Horton said he similarly resisted filing murder charges against Christopher Boots and Eric Proctor for the 1983 shooting of a Springfield convenience store clerk, citing insufficient evidence. Horton's successor, Doug Harcleroad, later obtained indictments, convictions and life prison terms for both Boots and Proctor. The two were exonerated in 1994 after another man confessed to the killing.
"Sometimes, one's most notable cases are those not prosecuted," he said. "Authority and power without judgment is a very dangerous thing."
That belief helps explain why Horton so easily moved from longtime prosecutor to representing an accused killer less than two years after leaving office here. Horton became involved in a Nevada case after he was contacted by the Oregon father of an Oregon State University Pharmacy School graduate wrongly arrested for the murder of a female airman at Nellis Air Force Base. Horton represented pharmacist John Harrison West, working with Eugene attorney Jeff Boiler to exonerate West, and later won a $650,000 settlement in his federal lawsuit alleging false arrest. West had been framed by a detective who included what Horton calls "knowingly false information" in a sworn statement to obtain West's arrest warrant.
"They tried to adapt and model the physical evidence to conform with their theory of the case," Horton said. He noted that Las Vegas Metro Police arrested the real killer of Beth Jardine 22 years later, based on DNA evidence.
West only spent 29 days in jail, unlike Boots and Procter who spent nearly seven years in prison, Horton said.
"On the very day (West's damage award) made headlines in the Las Vegas newspapers, Howard Haupt called me," the former DA continued. Haupt had just been acquitted on charges of abducting a child from a casino and killing the boy. He wanted to pursue a civil claim against the same detective and the Las Vegas Police Department for falsifying affidavits, Horton said.
When it became apparent that the case would go to trial, Horton asked Eugene attorney Bill Gary, an experienced, successful civil litigator, to take the lead on the case. Haupt won a $1 million verdict, though later settled for $800,000 after the case was reversed on appeal.
"Some people find it hard to go from being a prosecutor to wearing that (defense attorney) hat," Horton said. "But you have an opportunity in both cases to really help people."