Crook County sheriff pleads not guilty

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: June 07. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Crook County Sheriff Rodd Clark pleaded not guilty to charges of undue influence and official misconduct at his arraignment in Crook County Circuit Court on Wednesday afternoon.

Clark, 63, did not speak during the proceeding and deferred questions afterward to his lawyer, Greg Lynch.

The sheriff, who has said he will not step aside from his day-to-day duties, wore a navy suit jacket, a blue shirt and tie, and jeans. The brief arraignment took place in one of the Crook County Courthouse’s smallest courtrooms, and only a handful of people were in attendance.

“We’re anxious to go to trial,” Lynch said after the arraignment.

“I know the sheriff wants to get this behind him and get it behind the community.”

Judge George Neilson said that he will turn the case over to an out-of-county judge – most likely Robert Huckleberry of the Lincoln County Circuit Court – to ensure fairness in the trial.

“I just feel it’s better, given that you’ve practiced your craft in this county, that it be done by a judge that has no connection with the community or courts here,” Neilson said, addressing Clark.

Because of the change in judges, no further dates have been set in the case. Lynch said he thinks it will be late fall or early winter before a trial begins, and he added that it will probably still take place in Crook County. The state Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case.

Clark is accused of exerting undue influence over last year’s primary election.

According to the indictment handed down by a grand jury last month, the charges stem from a mandatory Sheriff’s Office staff meeting in August 2005, during which Clark is accused of using his position as sheriff to “induce another person to refrain from being a candidate” in the May 2006 primary election for Crook County sheriff.

Because he could have benefited from others not running against him, the action also constituted official misconduct, according to the indictment. Undue influence is a Class C felony that carries a penalty of up to $125,000 in fines or five years in prison, according to the state Department of Justice. Official misconduct is a Class A misdemeanor that could involve a fine of up to $6,250.

Several of those at the August 2005 meeting have said that Clark, who has been sheriff in Crook County for 21 years, threatened to fire anyone who ran against him for the position. Clark and his attorney have said that, at the meeting, Clark told his staff about a case in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the right of a sheriff to fire employees who were campaigning for themselves or others while on the job.

As the legal process continues, officials inside and outside the Sheriff’s Office said the department is maintaining a “business as usual” attitude. Clark and Undersheriff Jim Hensley are planning to attend a series of town hall meetings next week to discuss the office’s K-9 program, according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office.

Hensley said Wednesday that Clark is fulfilling his usual duties every day and has communicated to the staff that “we need to continue just doing the best job we can for the public.”

“We have a whole lot of professionals working here, and we all know our jobs and we’re going to continue to do our jobs no matter what happens,” Hensley said.

County Commissioner Lynn Lundquist said he has not heard of any problems with the workings of the Sheriff’s Office since Clark has been under indictment.

“We certainly realize that this is not advantageous for Crook County or for the Sheriff’s Department,” Lundquist said. “Having said that, as long as the outcomes are being met, simply meaning (they are) providing the services … if that is met, you know, that’s probably the most we can ask at this time.”

Lundquist said he and the two other county commissioners have not met as a group with Clark since his indictment. Clark did not attend their regular meeting Wednesday morning. Crook County Judge Scott Cooper noted that, because the sheriff is an elected official, the county commission does not have the authority to remove him from his post.

“What I think really doesn’t matter,” Cooper said. “It’s ultimately Rodd’s call whether he chooses to remain in office or take some time off.”

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