Roseburg City Council members made no comment last week about why they voted 7 to 1 to terminate Municipal Judge Ken Madison.
But The News-Review has obtained several documents suggesting that Madison was under fire from the council two years ago over communications problems with the Douglas County Jail and with city employees. It also appears the council was concerned with a shortfall in municipal court revenue.
For his part, Madison told The News-Review in an interview this week that he was disappointed with the council’s decision. He said he has been a good judge in his 25 years on the bench, and he thought that should have counted for more.
“I understand their frustration, but I thought that maybe 25 years of service, they would have given a little more consideration to that. They didn’t have any criticism about my work as a judge. It was just the problems that I was having communicating with the jail, that really was their beef,” he said.
According to two memos signed by Mayor Larry Rich in the summer of 2015, it was that issue and more that were of concern.
In a July 7, 2015, memo, Rich wrote to Madison that it was his responsibility to ensure he was available by phone to authorize probable cause affidavits for jail inmates. Those affidavits ensure the jail can hold suspects.
He also wrote that the judge needed to use a computer and an email address provided by the city, suggesting in a June 23, 2015, memo that there was a “disconnect” between the city and the judge.
“The city says you were provided a computer. You say you have been asking for 15 years and have not received one,” Rich wrote. “Please explain.”
And then there was the court’s revenue shortfall, of about $100,000 over the previous year. The judge was supposed to work with the city’s finance director on a solution.
The memo suggests three executive sessions were held to address these issues over the course of summer 2015.
Other documents suggest the municipal court had been losing money for at least five years in a row.
While the number of cases brought before the court fluctuated up and down, and were about the same in 2014-15 as they were in 2009-10, the fines assessed steadily went down over the same period, according to information included in the judge’s evaluations in recent years.
In 2009-10, the court’s total revenue was $696,904, compared with $454,693 in 2014-15.
Rich said he couldn’t comment on the memos because they were about material discussed in executive (closed to the public) session.
Madison said the communication problem with the jail stemmed from problems using fax machines. When he lived in Myrtle Creek, he said there was a time when faxes he sent weren’t received by the jail. He said the problem turned out to be a phone line. After he moved to Winchester, the fax worked fine for a long time, he said. Then another fax problem developed.
“Last year, we started having this intermittent problem with the fax machines not communicating. So I bought a new fax machine. That didn’t fix the problem,” he told The News-Review. He said the problem eventually went away on its own and he was receiving faxes again.
He said he can’t understand why the jail had trouble reaching him by phone. He said he’s had the same phone number and cell number for a long time, and he gave his previous cellphone to his son, who would have given him any messages received from the jail.
Douglas County Corrections Lt. Mike Root declined an interview, referring questions to Sgt. Brad O’Dell, public information officer for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. O’Dell said the sheriff’s office “will not be commenting on this matter,” and referred questions back to the city of Roseburg.
Madison has served as Myrtle Creek’s municipal judge longer than he’s been on the Roseburg bench. He said he will approach that city about whether it wants him to continue.
Madison became a municipal judge for Myrtle Creek in 1987, and for Roseburg in 1992. He also has served as a pro tem judge for Sutherlin and Winston. He has also been a prison guard in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, a parole and probation officer and an attorney practicing a blend of civil and criminal defense law in Roseburg. He made an unsuccessful run for Douglas County Circuit Court judge in 2004.
Madison is philosophical about the abrupt end to his Roseburg judicial career. It was politics, he said, and he served at the council’s pleasure.
“I was disappointed. I wanted to work for a few more years, but you know retirement doesn’t look so bad,” he said.