Who will be the new Crook County DA?
Now that Daina Vitolins has made the move to Circuit Court Judge, work is under way to fill the Crook County District Attorney seat she vacated.
Vitolins was sworn in as judge on Friday, Aug. 11 and began work on the bench the following Monday. The district attorney position must therefore be filled by governor appointment as mandated by Oregon law. Meanwhile, the position will be filled temporarily by a senior assistant attorney general with the Oregon Attorney General's Office.
"That person will come in and be the acting DA until a new one is announced," said Kristina Edmunson, spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Justice.
Gov. Kate Brown began soliciting district attorney applicants in early July, shortly after she appointed Vitolins to fill the circuit court position that Gary Williams left vacant after retiring June 30. Three attorneys applied for the opening, all of whom work or reside in Oregon's 22nd Judicial District, which serves both Crook and Jefferson counties.
One of the applicants worked with Vitolins directly as a Crook County Deputy District Attorney. Raun Atkinson is a Deschutes County resident who attended Redmond High School and later graduated from Grant High School in Portland in 2000. According to his application filed with the governor's office, he attended Central Oregon Community College then the University of Houston before earning his law degree from Willamette University in May 2014.
Atkinson worked for a private firm in Redmond before taking a job with Crook County as a certified law clerk in January 2014. He was hired 10 months later as a deputy district attorney and was named chief deputy district attorney in March 2017.
"Prior to attending law school, I served our country as a United States Marine," Atkinson stated in a cover letter addressed to Gov. Brown. "I spent three years overseas in Japan, Kuwait and Iraq. My time in the Marine Corps has shaped the person I am now and more than any other experience in my life has shown me multiple examples of great leaders and what makes great leaders effective."
Another applicant, Fredrick L. Bennett Jr., currently practices law at his private law firm in Prineville after moving to the area about five years ago. Like Atkinson, he attended Willamette University College of Law, earning his juris doctorate degree in 1975. According to his application, he began his law career as a Marion County Deputy District Attorney and then transitioned to Umatilla County in 1976, where he was hired as chief deputy district attorney. Six months later, he ascended to district attorney, a job he held for about five and half years.
Bennett then transitioned to private practice, working for three different firms between 1982 and 1997. He was then hired in a "referee and appointed circuit judge pro-tem with the specific understanding I would bring Lincoln County into compliance with federal guidelines."
"As district attorney, I was trying major felonies very early in my career, including murder, rape and assault," Bennett wrote in a cover letter. "The district attorney must strike a careful balance between what is possible and what is fair while vigorously enforcing the law. I am prepared to accept that challenge if offered."
The third attorney who applied for the job also currently works as a deputy district attorney in the 22nd Judicial District. Wade Whiting is the senior deputy district attorney under Jefferson County DA Steve Leriche, a job he has held for the past four years.
The Madras resident graduated from Camas High School in southwest Washington in 2001, then moved on to Brigham Young University then University of Kansas School of Law, where he earned his juris doctorate degree in 2010.
Whiting started his career as an associate attorney at a private law firm in Madras before joining the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office staff in 2013.
"I had the pleasure of serving as the Jefferson/Crook County Bar President for three years and was able to build many relationships in Crook County," he wrote in a letter to Gov. Brown. "While my principal place of business has been in Jefferson County the past four years, I have had numerous opportunities to appear and practice law in Crook County when I was in private practice. … If appointed to the position, my wife and I are fully committed to relocating to become members of the community, enrolling our children in school and serving the people of Crook County."
Each of the applicants for the district attorney position included letters of support from local law enforcement and criminal justice professionals. Crook County Sheriff John Gautney said Atkinson is "a very dedicated and conscientious member of the law enforcement in Crook County.
"He has the respect of the deputies and police officers in our community and shares the values that are important to our citizens," Gautney stated in a letter to Gov. Brown. "What Raun lacks in experience, he makes up in devotion to his duty as a prosecutor and dedication and motivation to protect the rights of victims and hold offenders accountable for their actions."
Prineville Police Chief Dale Cummins wrote that Atkinson "does not hesitate to prosecute when it is justified to do so, and he has denied prosecution when it did not serve the interest of justice."
Whiting, meanwhile, received letters of support from Leriche and Circuit Court Judge Dan Ahern as well as Prineville attorneys Jennifer Kimble and William Condron, who are both public defenders in the 22nd Judicial District.
"Wade demonstrated that he is a person of uncommon character with the highest integrity and ethics," Leriche stated. "I particularly sought him out to be a deputy district attorney because of his character, and he has lived up to all expectations and the quality of work has reflected greatly upon my office. I trust him with the most serious cases."
Ahern stated that Whiting possesses the experience and long-term stability necessary to fill the Crook County District Attorney position.
"He is always prepared and has a very high ethical code in dealing with the law," he wrote. "As a judge, I always prefer district attorneys who have worked both sides of the courtroom. They tend to possess a level of empathy that is sometimes lacking with career prosecutors."
At this time, no timeline has been disclosed regarding when Gov. Brown will appoint a new district attorney, however, the Department of Justice has run county offices and is prepared for whatever timeframe is necessary.
"Typically it is a month or two," Edmunson said, "but every case is different."