Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill submitted his resignation this afternoon, just six months before his term is set to expire. In an email sent to his staff, Underhill said he'd prefer the county's DA elect, Mike Schmidt, to take the reins during a moment of "monumental and lasting societal change."
"And while I welcome that challenge and that change, I must be honest with myself and with you," Underhill wrote. "My term expires in six months; it would be shortsighted of me and unfair to the office and our community to spend my remaining time advocating for and enacting that strategic vision, and then looking to DA-Elect Schmidt to begin that process anew, and potentially differently, in January."
Underhill's last day in office will be July 31. He said he's asked Gov. Kate Brown to appoint Schmidt to finish the rest of Underhill's term, starting August 1. Underhill has worked for the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office fo 32 years—and has spent the past five years as the county's top prosecutor.
"This decision did not come easily for me, but it is time," Underhill continued. "As I reflect on my three decades of public service, I could not be more proud. Together, we have celebrated our achievements on behalf of crime victims individually and without fanfare and it is those achievements, and others, that will stick with me the most."
Schmidt, who currently serves as the director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission (OCJC), ran as a reform candidate in the race to replace Underhill in May. He beat Ethan Knight, an assistant US attorney, with 79 percent of the vote. In a phone call with the Mercury, Schmidt he was surprised when Underhill told him the plan Monday. Schmidt had just begun reaching out to people who could help him with his expected January transition.
"I started making phone calls a little more frantically this morning," said Schmidt.
But he's eager to step into the role.
"These demands we're hearing from the public right now... this is what I campaigned on," Schmidt said. "Shrinking the criminal justice system, giving power back to judges from prosecutors, holding police accountable. These are things I believe in."
"I knew it could happen," he continued, "but I thought it would take some time after I entered office to get people on board. Now, it’s like, "Oh this might happen right now.' That’s incredibly exciting."
Underhill's resignation comes less than a week after the resignation of now-former Portland Police Chief Jami Resch, who has been replaced by Chief Chuck Lovell.