Circuit Court judge Brian Dretke is stepping down from the bench after more than four years of service in 10th Judicial District, which encompasses Union and Wallowa counties. While Dretke enjoyed his time on the bench administering law, his love for practicing law has led him to Bend.
Dretke applied for and was appointed by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber to the 10th Circuit Court bench in 2012, succeeding retiring judge Phillip Mendiguren. He applied for the job because of a shortage of judges in the area, and he felt it was his civic responsibility to step up to the plate.
“It seemed like the right fit at the right time to help the situation,” Dretke said. “I enjoy the work, but it never has been my long term goal to retire at this job. I’ll do as good a job as I can in it, but if a good opportunity comes up, and things are going well, I’ll take that opportunity.”
The opportunity came as a partnership offer from a Bend firm that will now become Dwyer Williams Dretke Attorneys.
“It’s a plaintiff’s firm, so it’s civil work,” Dretke said. “They needed somebody to litigate, and that’s what I do.”
His previous specialty was litigating senior-home cases.
“That to me was really rewarding. When you are able to get one resolved, it usually changes the way the facility treats their residents.”
Dretke spent his formative years in Oklahoma and attended Oklahoma State University, where he met his future wife before joining the Air Force. The military sent him to Shreveport,La., where he finished his undergraduate degree at Louisiana State University in 1983.
After military service, Dreke returned to Oklahoma and went to work for the Tulsa Police Department, where he worked for nine years in a number of capacities including narcotics, patrol and fugitive warrants.
“It was always a running fight. It was a great job when you’re young and invincible,” he said with a laugh.
During that time, Dretke attended law school at Tulsa University. Upon graduation he searched for employment as a prosecuting attorney. He and his wife toured Oregon, and he received a job offer from Lane County contingent upon his passing the bar exam. Dretke studied for the bar at the University of Oregon while his wife and children returned to Oklahoma. After the exam he returned to Oklahoma, and in four months received the news he’d passed the bar. He called Lane County to tell them he was on his way, only to find that a timber industry downturn had negated the offer.
After more searching, Dretke mulled over offers from the district attorney offices of Union and Umatilla Counties. He chose Union County for its scenery.
“That was 1993, and we’ve been there ever since,” Dretke said.
He worked for the DA’s office for several years before entering into private practice in 1997, eventually becoming a partner in the Pendleton law firm Hallman & Dretke in 2000.
Dretke has enjoyed his time on the bench although it also posed challenges, particularly in family law.
“You hope you have enough depth of experience and knowledge to make the right decision. ... You’re asked to make an important decision that’s going to affect people’s lives, that’s going to affect their children, based on a very limited exposure to them. All you do is just hope and pray that you made the right decision. I don’t think people have any idea how much I struggle with those.”
Wallowa County District Attorney Mona Williams said she’s sorry to see Dretke go because of the pains he took to be prepared for every case.
“Judge Dretke has been a good judge. He’s fair and thorough,” she said.
Williams said she appreciates Dretke’s innate humor and good nature, which he used on occasion to calm down even the most cantankerous of defendants before him.
Williams recounted a mental commitment hearing that sticks out in her mind: “He was totally out there, thinking he had been talking to Jesus and had been told he needed to do some violent things, and they were having a hard time with him at the jail. At the hearing he kept saying ‘They won’t feed me enough food here, and that’s part of the reason I’m having so much trouble.’“
By the end of the hearing, Dretke had pacified the man considerably. After telling the man he was sending him to a hospital to get stabilized, Dretke turned to the deputy and said, “By the way, deputy, can we get this young man a baloney sandwich?”
“It was the perfect thing to say to the defendant,” Williams said. “He laughed and thanked the judge and said,‘That’d be great, judge.’ He had that way of dealing with people and it was really good to see from my perspective.”