Closing the book on a long legal career
Carl Dutli sits at a conference table in the law firm building he has occupied for most of his career.
The longtime attorney for the City of Prineville has recently turned 70, and he is ready to hand off the job to someone new and enjoy retirement. His last official day will be Dec. 31, wrapping up a legal career that began 43 years ago.
"It doesn't seem possible. I am too young for that," he quips.
Dutli remembers choosing the legal profession because it seemed to be an interesting way to help people and because it appeared to be a challenge. He has since been proven correct on both assumptions.
"You work your mind," he said. "It's a lot like a puzzle where you have to fit everything together and make it work."
Completing law school at the University of Oregon, Dutli initially returned to his hometown of Enterprise to launch his career. There he went to work for "the old-time lawyer there" who also owned a title company.
"At that time, I did more court work," he recalls. "I did criminal defense, family law — just pretty much small town general practice."
But Enterprise didn't suit Dutli's long-term plans, saying that the little community in the northeast corner of Oregon is pretty isolated.
"It's winter up there for about eight months of the year," he joked, "so I thought maybe I'd like to try someplace else."
So two years into his law career, Dutli zeroed in on the center of the state, choosing to relocate to Prineville in the fall of 1976. He was particularly struck by the view from the top of the grade, before Highway 126 winds down to the city below.
"It was all green and pretty," he remembers.
Dutli started his law practice in a space directly above Prineville Men's Wear, but he wouldn't stay there long. Eight months later, he joined seasoned attorneys Anne MacDonald and Fred Kowolowski at a little building on the corner of Seventh and Elm streets.
"I just joined them in an office sharing arrangement," he said. "We bought this building together. Fred and I set up a partnership and practiced law that way."
Changes would come as the next decade began. Not only did his office mates leave — MacDonald retired and Kowolowski moved on to another firm — Dutli began his tenure as city attorney.
In 1981, the position had opened and Dutli contacted City Manager Henry Hartley to let him know he was interested in the position. He had already done some city attorney work in Enterprise and had enjoyed it enough to give it a try in Prineville.
"So they contact me, and the rest is history," he said.
Representing the City of Prineville's legal interests, Dutli prepares documents for the municipality and negotiates on its behalf. He often works behind the scenes helping different staff members with legal questions or issues. His job also includes time in front of the public during Prineville City Council meetings where he advises the council and provides legal information as needed.
Dutli has found that representing a public entity offered new challenges that other attorneys don't often face.
"With public entities, most of it is in the public, so you are somewhat limited by the laws," he said. "If you are defending, it is really hard go get the public entity's story out there."
He explained that governing bodies and especially the insurance companies that represent them most often prefer attorneys not to talk when facing legal action.
"In my opinion, the laws really favor somebody who is going against a public body," he said. "It's frustrating because I know some things that the city has gone through that if the whole story came out, if would make a difference."
Despite these challenges, Dutli enjoys his job and will have a hard time stepping away from it.
"It's tough because I really enjoy what I am doing and especially working with the city," he said. "It is really interesting with everything that is going on."
However, after four decades, Dutli is ready to enjoy his family and recreational pursuits.
"I am healthy, luckily, and my wife (Marlee) is healthy, so we would like to travel," he said. "We have young grandkids that we would like spend more time with."
It also doesn't hurt that he is leaving the city with a capable replacement. Jered Reid, an attorney who has worked in his building for the past year and a half, is ready to step in on Jan. 1.
"I found Jered to be a quick learner, and he has a (broad legal) background similar to mine before I started," Dutli said. "He shows good judgment, and I think he will do a good job for the city."