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Portland council, auditor blast federal judge's courtroom management

In an unusual move, the city of Portland is publicly attacking a federal judge’s impartiality and courtroom management during an Oct. 25 check-in on the city’s compliance with a federal police oversight agreement.

Five members of the City Council and elected Auditor Mary Hull Caballero have signed a letter expressing their “unanimous condemnation of the behavior permitted to occur” at the hearing, referring to testimony allowed by Judge Michael Simon from several police critics who were not part of the litigation that led to the 2014 agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Click to read letter from City Council and Auditor

Click to read City Attorney declaration

The city’s letter questions the behavior of some of the critics, such as David “Kif” Davis, who among other things told one Portland deputy city attorney to “Go back to Haiti.”

The letter also questions Simon's decision to invite testimony from another police critic, Joe Walsh, who had sued the city over being barred from council hearings for past disruptions. Simon ruled against the city in that case.

The letter accuses Simon of “inviting and permitting … racist, sexist, and other ad hominem attacks … these circumstances raise concern of partiality and the City’s ability to receive fair treatment from this court.”

At the hearing, a deputy city attorney had asked Simon his thoughts on City Hall’s continuing problems with police critics who have been disrupting meetings, in some cases causing their postponement or even closure to the general public.

Simon responded in court that the city might want to open up a dialogue with the protesters about how to have a productive dialogue. He later opened up the hearing to the critics as if to model how that dialogue might work. Ironically, during the court recess one police critic who had spoken out of turn, Roger Hardesty, was taken down and arrested after raising his voice at a U.S. Marshall.

Also in the hearing, Simon expressed his readiness to take actions to enforce the settlement if the city does not make the required progress on police reforms. The city at one point protested plans to hold update hearings in the next few months, seemingly an attempt by the judge to pressure the city to get things done.

In addition to the letter from the council and Hull Caballero, Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve filed a declaration saying that after the hearing Davis and one of his allies, Robert West, “followed, filmed and verbally harassed us all the way back to City Hall, and had to be prevented from entering City Hall with us after hours. I am aware that Mr. Davis has posted disturbing video about (a deputy city attorney) online resulting in extreme online harassment and misogyny directed toward that attorney.”