DOJ finds no grounds for charges against judge

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The Oregon Department of Justice has completed an investigation of former Sweet Home Municipal Court Judge Larry Houchin and found no grounds to charge the judge.

Last week, the state Attorney General’s office told The New Era that the investigation was complete.

The investigation report was dated Sept. 28, but the DOJ did not respond to periodic telephone inquiries by The New Era requesting updates.

Following a public records request, The New Era received a copy of the investigative report from Linn County District Attorney Jason Carlile, who had passed the complaint to the attorney general.

Carlile worked for Houchin, and then Houchin worked for him in the District Attorney’s Office. Being so close to the case, Carlile asked the attorney general to handle the investigation.

The investigation began last year after a woman named Leona Jean Davis, who had an outstanding warrant in Sweet Home Municipal Court for failure to appear on a drunken driving charge, claimed to have had lunch with Houchin and then visited his home on Nov. 25, 2005.

The DOJ report said that they had lunch while the warrant was oustanding in Houchin’s court.

Her story came out when a Lebanon police officer arrested her on the outstanding warrant on Nov. 28, 2005.

During the investigation, Davis became uncooperative, said Stephanie Soden, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Hardy Myers.

According to the investigative report, Davis left Linn County, and the DOJ was unable to locate her.

Davis had claimed to have had lunch with Houchin and then gone to his home on Nov. 25, 2005, though she told the DOJ that nothing sexual happened, according to the DOJ report.

The report said Houchin confirmed that he had lunch with her, called her and took her to his house. It said he told the DOJ that he was attempting to help her get her life in order and succeed.

The report concluded that there was no basis for any criminal charges related to the complaint.

The Sweet Home City Council decided on Sept. 12 not to renew Houchin’s contract, until after the investigation was concluded, after learning he was under investigation. Houchin turned in his keys prior to that council meeting, City Manager Craig Martin said.

Houchin had been the municipal judge in Sweet Home for eight years. He continues to preside over the Lebanon Municipal Court.

Houchin did not respond Monday to a phone call requesting comment.